Taking care of your body after cancer
Almost three years ago I started chemotherapy to clear my third cancer. It wasn’t the first time that poison pumped through my veins to fight an ugly disease. Twenty-five years ago, I went through 13 months of intense chemo treatment for bone cancer. One of the most valuable lessons cancer taught me? You only get one body. That’s why I recommend taking care of your body after cancer to be one of your top priorities.
Love your body
Prior to osteosarcoma, I thought I was being good to my body. While I exercised a lot and thought I was eating healthy (especially for a 21-year-old college student), it became pretty intense during my junior and early senior year of college, even borderline obsessive. I really wasn’t eating proper nutrients and overworking my body wasn’t good for it. I recognize it now as a control factor for a college student juggling too much, including trying to overcome shyness and insecurity.
As bone cancer treatment went on, I realized the seriousness of my battle against this infuriating disease. I was 21 and going through cancer, pumping poison through my body. My brain switched to protection mode of my body. I needed to ensure that my body stayed strong during treatment. And once chemo ended and I could breathe a sigh of relief at surviving, my focus shifted to taking care of my body after treatment.
It’s not to say that I don’t indulge in food at times and follow a strict lifestyle. I do not. I cleared three cancers, I’m going to enjoy life!
You only get one body
But I am aware of the importance of being active, follow up care and screenings [Read ‘5 cancer screenings not to miss‘]. Having a titanium rod in place of my femur, knee and upper tibia has taught me to be aware of how my body feels. I adapt my lifestyle when necessary.
Being proactive with your health matters. Consider my health history: I noticed the change in the mole on my calf, insisting my dermatologist remove it. Melanoma in situ. I make sure to schedule my annual 3D screening mammogram because I know the importance of a breast cancer screening. Early stage 1 breast cancer. Taking care of your body after cancer matters. To your health. To your life.
Side note: Taking care your body matters all the time, whether you’ve had cancer, diabetes, heart disease or nothing at all! Preventive screenings save lives. Exercise and eating healthy help keep your body strong. Seeing your primary care doctor for baseline health measures can help determine if something changed and should be addressed.
Don’t blow off your health because you ‘feel healthy.’ Thousands of cancer survivors also ‘felt healthy’ before a diagnosis that forever changes a life.
4 tips for taking care of your body after cancer
Schedule follow up care and screenings.
Ask your oncology about a post-treatment care plan so you can stay on top of your follow up care. Also know what side effects you may be at risk for. For instance, past chemo and radiation are a risk for my heart. I see a cardiologist annually, along with a strain echo, to ensure we are proactive in catching any changes or concerns. Being proactive can help prevent health issues or catch them early.
I thankfully have always loved being active. It’s been a part of my lifestyle since college. Even with a rod in place of my femur, knee and part of my tibia, I still regularly exercise and am active [Read ’10 tips to motivate you to exercise‘]. Exercise has been a great benefit for my body, especially my heart. The potential risk I mentioned above? At my last cardiology visit, I learned that my heart function actually improved over the past few years! [Read ‘Why my heart test matters to you‘]
Find a community of support.
Going through cancer or any life challenge can feel overwhelming. Sometimes loneliness and isolation set in. You may also feel as if you’re the only one experiencing these challenges. Rest assured that you are not alone!
Finding others who went through similar cancer stories truly helped me through my journey. Sharing stories, getting advice, hearing what worked for others, having someone to just listen with understanding…..more helpful than I can ever express. It’s one of the reasons that I committed to sharing my cancer journey so many years ago. I know those isolating, lonely, frustrating feelings. I also know how comforting and refreshing it feels to find others who simply ‘get it,’ often times without me even having to explain anything.
Join a support group (your cancer center may host support groups or have recommendations). Find a mentor who went through similar treatment. Ask other cancer survivors or your care team for suggestions. [Read ‘8 helpful cancer resources‘ for support resources]
Build your health care team.
Having a good relationship with your care team is critical to your health. You should feel comfortable sharing any health news with your doctors. Keep your doctor(s) updated on changes to your health.
I’m a fan of ‘interviewing’ potential new doctors. I expect my doctors to take the time to listen to my concerns and questions, respond to me respectfully and treat me like I’m a part of the team. For although that particular doctor may be the coordinator of what health concern I’m there for, I am the captain of my body. If a health care provider blows off a concern or question, that’s a red flag for me and I immediately address it with them (and have found another doctor if it’s not a match). Figure out what works for YOU. I’m so fortunate that my doctors have fantastic personalities to accompany their expertise and super smarts.
Most cancer survivors also have multiple doctors managing specific health issues/concerns. Make sure these doctors communicate well with each other. Being able to access to your medical information, tests and more is very helpful to ensuring no post-treatment care is missed.
What other ways can you take care of your body?
*The content here is not meant as medical advice or directives. These are my personal opinions only. Consult your doctor for medical care and advice. Any actions you take are your responsibility. Learn more.