You can’t change the fact that you have had cancer. What you can change is how you live the rest of your life – making choices to help you stay healthy and feel as well as you can. This can be a time to look at your life in new ways. Maybe you’re thinking about how to improve your health over the long term. Some people even start during cancer treatment.
Make healthier choices
For many people, finding out they have cancer helps them focus on their health in ways they may not have thought much about in the past. Are there things you could do that might make you healthier? Maybe you could try to eat better or get more exercise. Maybe you could cut down on alcohol, or give up tobacco. Even things like keeping your stress level under control might help. Now is a good time to think about making changes that can have good effects for the rest of your life. You will feel better and you will also be healthier.
You can start by working on those things that worry you most. Get help with those that are harder for you. For instance, if you are thinking about quitting smoking and need help, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.
Eating right is hard for many people. This is especially true for people with esophagus cancer. The cancer or its treatment can affect how you swallow. Nausea can be a problem from some treatments. You may lose your appetite for a while and lose weight when you don’t want to.
During treatment: Many people lose weight or have taste problems during treatment. If this happens to you, do the best you can. Eat whatever appeals to you. Eat what you can, when you can. Now is not the time to restrict your diet. You may find it helps to eat small portions every 2 to 3 hours. Try to keep in mind that these problems usually improve over time. You may want to ask your cancer team about seeing a dietitian, an expert in nutrition who can give you ideas on how to fight some of the side effects of your treatment.
After treatment: Many patients have trouble with reflux after treatment. It may help to stay upright for several hours after eating.
In some patients, the stomach was used to replace all or part of the esophagus. This can mean that the stomach can’t hold food for digestion like it did before. The food that is swallowed quickly passes into the intestine, leading to symptoms of diarrhea, sweating, and flushing after eating. This is called the dumping syndrome. This may mean you have to change your diet and how you eat. For example, you may need to eat smaller amounts of food more often.
Your health care team can help you adjust your diet if you are having problems eating.
One of the best things you can do after treatment is to put healthy eating habits into place. You may be surprised at the long-term benefits of some simple changes, like increasing the variety of healthy foods you eat. Getting to and staying at a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and limiting your alcohol intake may lower your risk for a number of types of cancer, as well as having many other health benefits.
For more information, see Nutrition and Physical Activity During and After Cancer Treatment: Answers to Common Questions.
Rest, fatigue, and exercise
Feeling tired (fatigue) is a very common problem during and after cancer treatment. This is not a normal type of tiredness but a bone-weary exhaustion that often doesn’t get better with rest. For some people, fatigue lasts a long time after treatment and can keep them from staying active. But exercise can actually help reduce fatigue and the sense of depression that sometimes comes with feeling so tired.
If you are very tired, though, you will need to balance activity with rest. It is OK to rest when you need to. To learn more about fatigue, see Fatigue in People With Cancer and Anemia in People With Cancer.
If you were very ill or weren’t able to do much during treatment, it is normal that your fitness, staying power, and muscle strength declined. You need to find an activity that fits your needs. Talk with your health care team before starting. Get their input on your plans. Then try to get a buddy so that you’re not doing it alone.
If you are very tired, you will need to balance activity with rest. It is OK to rest when you need to. Sometimes it’s really hard for people to allow themselves to rest when they are used to working all day or taking care of a household, but this is not the time to push yourself too hard. Listen to your body and rest when you need to.
Exercise can improve your physical and emotional health.
- It improves your cardiovascular (heart and circulation) fitness.
- It makes your muscles stronger.
- It reduces fatigue.
- It helps lower anxiety and depression.
- It can make you feel generally happier.
- It helps you feel better about yourself.
Long term, we know that getting regular physical activity plays a role in helping to lower the risk of some cancers, as well as having other health benefits.
Last Revised: 02/04/2016