As we age, the development of cancer becomes more likely and unfortunately many do not win the fight against cancer. National Cancer Survivors Day reminds us that those who do survive have reasons to celebrate but the road ahead can be a tricky one.
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation take a big physical toll and the psychological stress is also difficult. Recovery from cancer can be made easier with attention to the physical and psychological health of your senior loved one. Here are some ways you can help your senior “thrive” after cancer.
Eat a “Protective” Diet
In other words, eat healthy! Vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and legumes that aren’t highly refined provide nutrients and phytonutrients that may be “protective” against cancer. Some medical evidence has shown that certain plant-based chemicals may help with DNA repair and cell proliferation.
Your senior should be encouraged to eat at least 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables each day and choose proteins from low-saturated products such as fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, beans, and lean meats. Fats should be limited to healthy options such as omega-3 fatty acids from fish and vegetable oils whenever possible.
Some cancer survivors have lost too much weight and muscle mass. This is particularly true in survivors of head, neck, and lung cancer but may include other cancers. In these seniors, care should be taken to rebuild the muscle and body mass but nutritional advice may be needed.
Fatigue is an unfortunate fact for many cancer survivors. Depression may be a problem as well. Regular exercise may increase the sense of well-being and can help your senior to build endurance which can combat fatigue over time.
Exercise may also decrease anxiety levels, relieve pain, and improve sleep patterns, all of which can contribute to fatigue. Physical accomplishment may also provide a boost in the self-esteem as strength returns and the senior sees that he may return to “normal.”
Exercise for the senior recovering from cancer doesn’t have to be strenuous. Encourage them to do as much as they can at first, even if it is just a walk up the stairs or around the block. Over time, he may reach the goal that the American Cancer Society sets of 30 minutes of exercise five or more days each week.
Get Rid of Unhealthy Habits
Smoking is known to increase the risk of cancer. Even if the senior has survived one type of cancer, tobacco may increase the risk of recurrence or development of a second type of cancer. Smoking cessation aids may be helpful.
Alcohol is thought to have some health benefits when consumed in moderation but not for everyone. While it may reduce the risk of heart disease but it may also increase the risk of a secondary cancer.
Alcohol should be consumed in moderation, if at all. Moderation means up to one drink a day for women and men over 65.
Some days, the senior may not feel like exercising, eating well, or participating in any recovery plan and that is ok. Start slow and help older adults make slow changes for long-term health. Positive health changes can reduce the risk of recurrence or development of a new cancer.