Everyone experiences symptoms and side effects differently. Some cancers cause changes in your body that may affect your daily life. Treatments for cancer can also cause problems such as nausea, fatigue, and vomiting. While they are common, that doesn’t mean they should be taken lightly. A key step in maintaining your health and quality of life during and after cancer is knowing how to manage your symptoms or side effects.
Your Healthcare Team Is There To Help
First and foremost, your doctors, nurses, and other members of your healthcare team are there to help you get through your treatment. Not all patients experience pain, so if you do, be sure to tell your physician about it. Your medical team will ask if you are having any changes in your eating habits, sleep patterns, and energy levels. It is important that you let them know anything that bothers you, so they can arrange appropriate help and treatment.
When the current treatment is no longer able to control cancer, your doctor may change its aim from trying to shrink the disease to managing upsetting symptoms. This is called palliative or supportive care. It will help you feel better and go back to your living standards. You can find palliative care teams in the community or in hospitals. They specialize in aiding patients to manage their symptoms such as pain. Your cancer specialist can refer you to a team if they can help improve your quality of life.
Some people with advanced cancer do not experience pain symptoms, but if you do, be sure to discuss it with your doctor. Pain with treatment is usually controlled with medicines. Mild painkillers like paracetamol may work well for some patients, but sometimes a stronger drug may be needed. Your healthcare team will work with you to find the best pain medication for your situation.
There are also treatments that help relieve pain like steroids, radiotherapy, nerve blocks, painkilling patches, and bone strengthening drugs called bisphosphonates. Some patients are interested in complementary therapies like hypnotherapy or acupuncture, and relaxation techniques to alleviate pain. You can find specialist pain clinics that offer these methods of pain control.
Changes In Appetite or Eating Habits
Patients fighting advanced cancer often develop eating disorders. These may be related to changes in the way they taste and smell food or to a loss of appetite. Some cancers and treatment can also make eating more challenging especially when the patient is always feeling sick or has difficulty swallowing. Even if you are eating balanced meals, you may still lose muscle and weight. That’s because the disease can alter the way your body uses the energy in your food.
Talk to your primary care doctor and dietician about your concerns regarding your weight and eating habits. They can assess the factors behind these changes and help you find ways to eat well. People close to you or those who help prepare your meals may feel upset if you are not able to finish your food. It’s important to explain your situation to them so they can understand and choose snacks and recipes that are more manageable for you. Consider these tips to aid with eating problems:
- Try having small meals and frequent snacks. This diet might be easier for you than having three large meals a day.
- If you can manage only small amounts, stick to drinks and foods that will give your protein and energy so you get most of what you consume.
- If you feel too sick to eat, get some rest and perhaps you could try it again in a couple of hours.
- Try a nourishing soup or drink if you are not able to chew properly. Liquidize or blend soft fruits (frozen or fresh) with fruit juice, fortified milk, and yogurt or ice cream. Your dietician can also recommend or prescribe puddings and supplement drinks for you.
- Don’t go too hard on yourself if you are not always able to choose healthier alternatives. It is your quality of life that’s more important. Find foods you enjoy and skip those that don’t appeal to you. When your sense of taste returns and your appetite improves, you can focus on eating healthy again.
There are many instances of cancer and treatment disrupting the sleep patterns of patients. For example, some drugs like steroids can make you feel more alert. If medications are affecting your sleep, your doctor may suggest ways to help, like taking your medicines in the morning so you won’t have difficulty sleeping come bedtime. Here are some tips for a better night’s sleep:
- Do gentle exercises to make your body tired and ready for sleep. Playing games, reading, doing puzzles, or walking may help.
- Stick to a schedule when going to bed and waking up every day.
- Listen to soothing music, have a warm shower or bath, or read a book. These activities make for a relaxing routine before nighttime.
- Avoid stimulants like cigarettes or caffeine, as well as large meals in the late evening. Instead, have a cup of warm milk before bed.
- Make your bedroom a relaxing place to be in. Make sure it is comfortable, quiet, and dark.
It is almost natural to feel tired easily when you’re battling cancer since your body no longer feels as strong. Even after resting, you may not have the vigor to go back to your normal activities and feel fatigued. If you have less energy to spare, save it for activities you really want to do. It may help to organize your plans, so you can schedule a time for rest throughout the day.
Practical aids such as wheelchairs, walking frames, or walking sticks can be useful too. These may help you to move around more on your own and be independent. There are also shops that deliver microwavable ready-made meals. This option is helpful when you feel too weak to cook.
Your journey against cancer might be filled with side effects and other problems that make life more challenging. Speak up about any changes you notice and let your medical team help reduce or treat these symptoms.