Lehigh Valley Health Network
Receiving a cancer diagnosis and starting treatment can be very difficult for individuals and their loved ones.
“The minute someone is diagnosed with cancer, their minds become filled with many emotions and concerns,” says surgical oncologist Lori Alfonse, DO, Deputy Physician in Chief of Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute. “However, it’s important to know that treatment advances have come a long way over the last decade, and it’s possible to thrive throughout all stages of your cancer journey.”
To help individuals thrive during cancer treatment, Alfonse offers tips she often shares with her patients:
Get plenty of rest Getting a good night’s sleep is good for everyone, but it’s especially important for individuals undergoing cancer treatment. This is because sleep deprivation can weaken the immune system, affect mood and decision-making skills, and make side effects of certain cancer treatments worse.
“As is recommended for most people, adults with cancer should try to sleep at least seven or eight hours a night,” Alfonse says. “If your symptoms, the side effects of your treatments or concerns about your diagnosis are keeping you up at night, be sure to speak to your care team. They will be happy to prescribe medications or provide referrals to other specialists.”
Eat well Eating regular meals comprised of foods with lots of nutrients (specifically proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals) will help you maintain your energy and strength, tolerate treatments and lower your risk for infection.
Some cancers and treatments can affect your appetite or ability to eat. If this is the case, be sure to reach out to your care team for support.
Acknowledge your feelings “I always tell my patients that mental health is just as important as their physical health throughout their cancer journey,” Alfonse says. “Cancer can be scary and overwhelming, and it often changes the way our bodies look and feel. It’s completely normal to be scared, angry, or even depressed. If you feel those emotions, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
If you are struggling with difficult emotions while undergoing cancer treatment, be sure to talk to your care team. They can help you access supportive resources like social workers, financial counselors and mental health professionals.
Stay active Research has shown that exercising during cancer treatment and staying active in general can improve energy levels and quality of life.
If you are an active person, it’s best to discuss your typical routine with your care team to determine what adjustments may be necessary. If you aren’t as active, your clinicians can make recommendations for light exercise and activities that may have a positive impact on your life during treatment.
Take precautions against infection Cancer and its treatments (especially chemotherapy) can weaken the body’s immune system and make it hard to prevent and fight infections.
Because of this, it’s important that individuals with cancer:
Wash their hands often, especially before eating, after touching public surfaces and after using the bathroom
Limit contact with people who are sick
Stay up to date on flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines/boosters
Take a bath or shower every day
Brush their teeth twice a day using a soft bristled toothbrush
Avoid natural bodies of water and public swimming areas
Watch out for signs of infection and contact their care team if they have them
Your care team can determine your specific infection risk and provide you with prevention tips tailored to your lifestyle and hobbies.