Those who have fought breast cancer know the feeling of finally being in remission. It can truly be a light at the end of the tunnel, but most end up asking the same question: What now? Many women find themselves a bit lost or worried without the support of healthcare professionals by their side. Here, we’ll talk about 6 of the best lifestyle changes you can make to help form a fulfilling, happy life after cancer.
Reconsider your diet
Eating nutritious foods is a key component in getting the energy you need to recover. If you’ve lost weight during your treatment, it’s highly recommended that you check with a doctor to make sure you don’t have any nutrient deficiencies. On the other hand, weight gain can be a sign of lymphedema from breast cancer treatment, an unfortunate side effect. Regardless of how your body looks, it needs the right fuel to keep you on track to feeling better. Here, we’ll explain the foods that help fight breast cancer and those that aren’t so healthy:
The same rules apply to breast cancer survivors: eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Aim for at least 2.5 cups each day and for a wide variety of them. These foods are rich in antioxidants, which have been proven to help fight cancer recurrence. It will also cut your intake of processed foods that are often packed with calories and have little nutritional value.
Reduce the amount of processed meat you consume- this means any meat that has been treated with preservatives to conserve flavor or shelf life. Think of packaged meats, cured and smoked meats, and fast food. Take a look at this evidence to back it up; just remember, everything should be in moderation!
It’s also been suggested that low-fat diets can help prevent breast cancer. A study that followed 48,835 postmenopausal women found that low-fat diets were been linked to longer life expendencies for those who ended up with breast cancer (1,767 of the study). To be clear, a diet that is 20% fat or less is considered low-fat. Although the evidence isn’t flawless, it does show some promise. It’s also important to be educated on the different kinds of fats and which ones to include in your diet.
Find exercise that works for you
Fitness can be way more than just getting your body in shape. It can completely turn around your mood, helping you cope with worry and uncertainty, reduce fatigue and give you a confidence boost. The federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get anywhere from 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise per week. Keep in mind that “moderate” counts as anything that gets your heart beating faster.
One study looked at women who met these exercise recommendations before their diagnoses and also at a two-year follow up and found that they had a 55% reduced chance of breast cancer coming back. Among those who didn’t meet the standard before their diagnosis (but did after two years), the chance of recurrence was still reduced by 43%! It goes to show that it’s never too late to start working out.
Get into a good sleep routine
Sleep is one of the main ways your body recovers from illness. A consistent routine can be extremely beneficial for your mental state. It does this by keeping the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline down so you can feel refreshed and relaxed in the morning and throughout the day.
Research has also shown that adequate sleep can keep your immune system functioning at its best. Reducing your sleep time to only 4 hours for one night has been proven to reduce the activities of NK cells by 72%. NK cells have a very important role in killing off cancer cells, so it’s a good idea to keep these cells doing their job of spotting and destroying cancer.
Consider mental health support
The emotional effects of cancer can be long-lasting and lead to cases of anxiety, depression, body image issues, fatigue and much more. Luckily, today there are more resources than ever to allow survivors to adjust back into normal life. One of the key components of recovery is to build a sense of community with others.
CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is often recommended for people who have undergone cancer treatments. Talking regularly to a therapist can help survivors confront and handle their negative thought patterns and find healthy ways of coping. If one-on-one therapy isn’t an option for you, support groups can easily be found online, through a local hospital, or through other survivors.
Other ways of coping through mental health struggles include methods of relaxing, like:
- Mindful meditation
- Breathing techniques for relaxing
- Prescribed medication for anxiety and/or depression
- Listening to music
- Regular journaling
- Making art
One thing to remember is that little actions can add up to a world of a difference for your mental health.
Reduce alcohol intake
There is plenty of research to prove that even just small amounts of alcohol can contribute to the development of breast cancer- women who consume three or more drinks per week have a 15% higher risk! This risk factor remains even higher if you’ve already dealt with this cancer before. Alcohol is thought to raise estrogen in your body, which, in turn, can allow for hormone-sensitive breast cancers to form.
Smoking is so often associated with lung cancer, but its damage on the body doesn’t simply stop there. It can pose as a roadblock to recovery, particularly for women who recently had breast reconstruction surgery. It also complicates matters for women who are taking hormonal therapy drugs or have done radiation therapy.
Cigarettes have at least 70 chemicals in them that have been strongly linked with the development of cancer. Even so, there are still thousands of other compounds in cigarettes and other tobacco products that haven’t been extensively studied. Your best bet is to stay far away from smoking- even secondhand smoke. If you’ve struggled with quitting, this guide by the CDC is sure to get you started on the right path.