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Self Care During Cancer

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Lucretia Hurley-Browning, MDiv, MS, Abramson Cancer Center chaplain at Pennsylvania Hospital, discusses why self care is important during cancer treatment and how to develop your own self-care practice.

The term “self-care” is a buzzword in certain circles, but what does it actually mean, and how do we start doing it?

Self-care is as varied and unique as we are. Each person (“self”) determines which practices best promote their well-being, in mind, body and soul. Some of the best self-care practices are comprised of simple actions that integrate smoothly into your lifestyle, such as cooking healthy food, listening to music or taking a quick walk. Self-care does not have to be expensive or time-consuming. (But it certainly could be, if that’s your thing!)

Why Self-Care Matters During Cancer Treatment

Cancer is primarily out of our control. Its demands—treatment, side effects, surgeries—can make us feel helpless or frustrated. But there are some things we can do to regain a sense of control. We can’t change cancer, but we can make decisions about how we care for ourselves. Self-care is one way to “get back in the driver’s seat.”

Through self-care, we pay attention to our needs, strengthen our reserves and perhaps even build resilience. Learning to lovingly care for ourselves is not the same thing as being self-indulgent. Self-care during cancer treatment is an essential and vital part of happiness and health. Research shows that regular self-care practices can reduce the adverse effects of stress, sleep disturbances and anxiety. It has also been shown to prevent overload and help build focus.

Some of us might be able to rattle off a long list of practices and experiences they consider to be effective self-care; others might struggle to identify one or two. We might also find, in stressful or challenging times, that our previous self-care strategies no longer work. New situations sometimes require new approaches. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Simple Self-Care for People with Cancer

  • Slow down and find quiet time for body and mind.
  • Try aromatherapy. An infusion nurse can bring you lavender, ginger or peppermint sniffers, as well as a lavender hand massage.
  • Make time for things that make you feel fulfilled, such as crafting, reading, taking a bath, going for a walk or baking.
  • Start a journal. You can also join Frankly Speaking, a reflection and writing group held at the Farm Journal Building.
  • Eat nourishing foods. Our excellent dietitians can offer guidance.
  • Do some light exercise. Note: before embarking on a new fitness regimen, ask your medical provider for clearance.
  • Get a massage.
  • Spend time with loved ones. If all you have energy for is a cup of tea with a treasured friend, so be it.
  • Prioritize sleep. It's incredibly important for our bodies and minds.
  • Protect your time. This could mean saying "no" when overwhelmed.

Above all, be kind to yourself. There is no one right way to go through the experience of cancer. It's all about figuring out what's right for you. And sometimes that means getting cozy on the couch with a cup of tea and a good movie. Take care!

About This Blog

The Focus on Cancer blog discusses a variety of cancer-related topics, including treatment advances, research efforts and clinical trials, nutrition, support groups, survivorship and patient stories.

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