We talk a lot about the importance of ‘living well with cancer’. We know there’s a chance it could improve our treatment outcomes and make us feel energised throughout the day as we go through our treatment. But there’s also evidence to show that it can really help manage the side effects that can be part of cancer treatment. Let’s take a look at some of the most common side effects experienced by patients with cancer and how you can make simple changes to your lifestyle to help deal with them.
Many patients experience changes in the way their brain functions following chemotherapy. These might include difficulties with new learning, working with numbers, multitasking, short-term memory or reduced concentration. Regular brain ‘exercise’ has been suggested to help with these symptoms. You can do puzzles, like Sudoku that use numbers, or simple tasks that give your memory a workout. Feeling tired all the time can also contribute, so make sure you have enough sleep, get regular exercise and eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms during and after cancer treatment. Patients report feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. You may feel low and not want to be around people. Don’t let yourself feel this way, it is important to force yourself to remain socially and physically active. Ask your family and friends for help. Make sure you eat a healthy balanced diet and, if possible, do a little exercise. Try and keep up the activities you enjoy – this will take your mind off your symptoms and help you feel energised.
For some additional self-help tips on how to manage your fatigue visit the NHS Choices service.
Hot flushes are also common. You might feel a sudden burning heat across your face, neck and chest followed by a cold, clammy, shivery feeling. You might also experience night sweats. To combat these symptoms, try wearing cotton rather than polyester, layer clothing or bedding so you can remove layers as needed, or use an electric fan. Cool baths and showers can also help, as can dietary changes like avoiding spicy foods or large meals, trying to lose some weight if you are overweight, and drinking plenty of fluids. Vitamin and mineral supplements may also help. Vitamin E, selenium and vitamin B6 have helped some patients, although the evidence for this is lacking at the moment.
Sleepless nights can make you feel overly tired and irritable. Simple solutions can really help. Try a warm bath or warm drink before bed. Cut down on naps during the day. Exercising regularly. And sleep in a calm, quiet room at the right temperature. It might also help to separate the space that you sleep from the space that you rest, and to follow routines such as going to bed at a specific time each night.
Making simple changes like these can really help you manage your side effects, often without the need for additional drugs in your system. Talk to your doctor about how best to manage your symptoms. Remember, it’s possible to live well with cancer.