What can I do to keep fit and well during treatment?
There are a number of things you can do to improve the way you manage cancer treatment like chemotherapy and radiation. Focusing on lifestyle factors such as exercise and nutrition, and new ways of coping can reduce the side effects of treatment, help you to complete treatment and support your recovery.
Returning to fitness
Once treatment has started and you know more about how to manage it as well as any likely side effects, you may see an opportunity to start gentle exercise again.
There is increasing evidence that exercise during treatment is important to maintaining your overall health. It can improve weight, muscle strength, mood, sleep and confidence and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Exercise is also known to reduce some side effects from treatment such as fatigue, pain, loss of bone density and risk of lymphoedema, and may even reduce the risk of breast cancer returning.
It's important to know that you don't have to join a gym to exercise; there are lots of ways you can be active at home and at work. Your aim is to exert enough physical effort while doing simple tasks so that you feel like you are warming up and your heart rate and breathing increase. Start by being physically active around the house and complete simple household chores like making the bed, sweeping, vacuuming and light gardening. Always be mindful of the individual advice your treatment team have given you, so you know which activities to avoid.
What exercise can I try?
- Walking pets
- Brisk walking
- Gardening and household chores
- Playing with children
- Yoga and pilates
- Swimming or water aerobics
I'm fit and I want to keep up my gym or fitness routine during treatment, what can I do?
If exercise and fitness are important to you, discuss your exercise goals with your treatment team; your surgeon, breast nurse or oncologist. Their advice will help you make good choices about the type of exercise you choose, plan reasonable goals and not to over do things, which may cause problems with your treatment or recovery. It is also important to consider the type of treatment you are having when thinking about the timing of exercising and whether a gym is right for you. For instance if you are at risk of infection then exercising alone may be better then going to a group class at the gym.
Specialist Pinc Physios and some exercise specialists are also able to support your return to fitness. They offer individual and group classes specifically for those who have had breast cancer treatment and surgery.
Take a look at the list of Pinc Physios and find a clinic near you.
Following a diagnosis of breast cancer, many people think about ways they can improve their diet and general health.
We know that eating a healthy diet, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight can aid your recovery. Whilst there is no evidence that any specific diet or supplement can prevent or cure cancer there is convincing evidence that nutrition and lifestyle factors affect the development and recurrence of breast cancer.
Making changes to what you eat may not be easy and you can expect to have good days and bad days. It may help to know that moving towards eating a healthy balanced diet does not mean you have to deprive yourself or stop eating all your favourite foods. Remember to enjoy your food and not be too restrictive.
- Eat wholegrains, vegetables, fruits and beans
- Limit “fast foods”, red and processed meat, other processed foods, sugar sweetened drinks and alcohol.
- Eat the rainbow. Look for nutrients from all different types and colours of whole foods. Aim to eat at least five different colours of fruits and vegetables each day.
- For your main meal aim to cover more than half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
Following a cancer diagnosis, it can be common to want to know if there are any dietary or nutritional supplements that may help. So far, no dietary supplements including vitamins, minerals, and herbal products have been shown to clearly lower the risk of breast cancer progressing or coming back. Lack of research does not change the fact that some people will find benefit from supplements.
- It is useful to know that some supplements, like high dose antioxidants, are not recommended when you are having chemotherapy or radiation.
- If you do choose to take a supplement like a multivitamin, check that the dosages do not exceed the recommended daily amounts.
- If you are thinking about taking any supplement it is essential you discuss this with the doctor who is treating you.
Everything in moderation
Part of eating a healthy balanced diet includes being flexible and relaxing your rules and restrictions around food. Listen to your body’s cravings and allow yourself some wiggle room. Make a point to indulge occasionally without any guilt or stress about your food choices.
Play around with different foods and cooking methods to discover what you like. Aim to try at least one new recipe per week. You might find you like certain vegetables depending on how they are prepared for instance broccoli steamed over boiled. If you are not a confident cook explore the internet for websites dedicated to food and cooking with free tutorials. The goal is to become more comfortable with cooking, to make it more enjoyable and to establish a regular routine.
If you are keen to know more, contact the specialist breast nurses at BCFNZ on 0800 226 8773 and ask for a copy of our Healthy Eating fact sheet.
When you have been told you have breast cancer it is not unusual to experience a range of emotions which may include distress, shock, anger, fear, grief, anxiety, sadness, a sense of loss or feeling overwhelmed. These are natural responses to challenging situations infused with danger and uncertainty.
Different emotions may be triggered at different stages, from finding a lump or being told you have breast cancer, waiting for treatments, investigations and results, coping with side effects of treatments to changes in relationships, job, career, finances, fertility, body image and living with uncertainty.
It is also common for those close to you to experience a similar range of emotions as they support you through your treatments.
The good news is there are many things you and your whānau can do:
- Make space for self-care
- It is OK not to feel positive and strong all the time
- Let family or friends know how you are feeling
- Take an active role in your treatment
When you're ready to begin your rehab journey, fill out this form and one of our specialist breast nurses will be in touch to help.