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 are thinking about how to improve your health over the long term. Some people even start during cancer treatment.
Making healthier choices
For many people, a diagnosis of 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 may help. Now is a good time to think about making changes that can have positive effects for the rest of your life. You will feel better and you will also be healthier.
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 for information and support. This tobacco cessation and coaching service can help increase your chances of quitting for good.
Eating right can be hard for anyone, but it can get even tougher during and after cancer treatment. This is especially true for cancers that affect the digestive tract, such as stomach cancer. The cancer or its treatment can affect how you eat and absorb nutrition. 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: If you are losing weight or have trouble eating during treatment, do the best you can. Eat what appeals to you. Eat what you can, when you can. You might find it helps to eat small portions every 2 to 3 hours until you feel better. Now is not the time to restrict your diet. Try to keep in mind that these problems usually improve over time. Your cancer team may refer you to 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: If part or all of your stomach has been removed, you might need to eat smaller amounts of food more often. Your doctor or nutritionist may also recommend that you stay upright for some time after eating. Your health care team can help you adjust your diet if you are having problems eating.
Some patients have problems with nausea, diarrhea, sweating, and flushing after eating. This is called dumping syndrome. When part or all of the stomach is removed, the food that is swallowed quickly passes into the intestine, leading to these symptoms after eating. These symptoms often get better over time.
Some people may need nutritional supplements to help make sure they get the nutrition they need. Some people may even need a feeding tube, usually called a jejunostomy tube (or J-tube), put into the small intestine. This is done through a small hole in the skin over the abdomen during a minor operation. A J-tube allows liquid nutrition to be put directly into the small intestine to help prevent weight loss and improve nutrition. Less often, the tube may be placed into the lower part of the stomach instead. This is known as a gastrostomy tube or G-tube.
One of the best things you can do after cancer treatment is 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.
Rest, fatigue, and exercise
Extreme tiredness, called fatigue, is very common in people treated for cancer. This is not a normal tiredness, but a bone-weary exhaustion that doesn’t get better with rest. For some people, fatigue lasts a long time after treatment, and can make it hard for them to exercise and do other things they want to do. But exercise can help reduce fatigue. Studies have shown that patients who follow an exercise program tailored to their personal needs feel better physically and emotionally and can cope better, too.
If you were sick and not very active during treatment, it is normal for your fitness, endurance, and muscle strength to decline. Any plan for physical activity should fit your situation. An older person who has never exercised will not be able to take on the same amount of exercise as a 20-year-old who plays tennis twice a week. If you haven’t exercised in a few years, you will have to start slowly — maybe just by taking short walks.
Talk with your health care team before starting anything. Get their opinion about your exercise plans. Then, try to find an exercise buddy so you’re not doing it alone. Having family or friends involved when starting a new exercise program can give you that extra boost of support to keep you going when the push just isn’t there.
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. (For more information on dealing with fatigue, please see Fatigue in People With Cancer and Anemia in People With Cancer.)
Keep in mind exercise can improve your physical and emotional health.
- It improves your cardiovascular (heart and circulation) fitness.
- Along with a good diet, it will help you get to and stay at a healthy weight.
- It makes your muscles stronger.
- It reduces fatigue and helps you have more energy.
- It can help lower anxiety and depression.
- It can make you feel happier.
- It helps you feel better about yourself.
And 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.
Can I lower my risk of the cancer progressing or coming back?
Most people want to know if there are specific lifestyle changes they can make to reduce their risk of their cancer progressing or coming back. Unfortunately, for most cancers there is little solid evidence to guide people. This doesn’t mean that nothing will help – it’s just that for the most part this is an area that hasn’t been well studied. Most studies have looked at lifestyle changes as ways of preventing cancer in the first place, not slowing it down or preventing it from coming back.
At this time, not enough is known about stomach cancer to say for sure if there are things you can do that will be helpful.
Tobacco use has clearly been linked to stomach cancer, so not smoking might help reduce your risk. We don’t know for certain if this will help, but we do know that it can help improve your appetite and overall health. It can also reduce the chance of developing other types of cancer. If you want to quit smoking and need help, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345. You can also learn more in our Guide to Quitting Smoking.
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and staying at a healthy weight are also linked with a lower risk of stomach cancer, but again we don’t know if these types of changes affect the risk of cancer progressing or coming back. However, we do know that they can have positive effects on your health that can extend beyond your risk of cancer.
Last Revised: 02/10/2016