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5 Keys to Self-Care During Cancer Treatment

Treating cancer is more than having surgery, chemo, or radiation. It’s also about taking care of yourself during a stressful time and finding some respite from what can feel like an all-encompassing disease.

“I’ve had patients say to me, ‘I just want a piece of time when I don’t have to think about cancer,’” said Paula H. Finestone, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “Taking a step back and disengaging for a day or even an hour helps put cancer in its place. The disease doesn’t go away, but it doesn’t need to be up in your face all the time. Both patients and caregivers need to have some TLC time, and that’s a perfectly good and normal thing to do.”

5 ways to cope

Whether you’re a patient or a caregiver, taking time for yourself can help keep cancer in perspective. Here are five ways to prioritize self-care:

1. Set visiting hours at home. Friends and family want to be supportive but often don’t understand the fatigue that can come with cancer. Visiting hours can be helpful. Pick a few hours on days when you think you might have more energy.

“You’re welcoming people but setting boundaries,” Finestone said. “It’s OK to say, ‘I get tired very easily, and I want to enjoy your company, but I also don’t want to nap while you’re here.’” This is a small way to disengage, but it can provide a big sense of relief.

2. Turn off your phone. This might seem insane in today’s ever-connected world, but turning off your phone for even an hour can give you permission to be quiet. Take a nap, read a book, binge watch your favorite show, or just enjoy some peace. These activities might seem minor, but they are critical to emotional wellbeing.

3. Outsource communication. You don’t have to have the same stressful conversation about treatment with multiple people.

“Patients tell me, ‘I had a 20-minute conversation with my sister about my treatment, then I had the same 20-minute conversation with my neighbor and it’s exhausting,’” Finestone said.

One solution: “Pick a family member or close friend to be your communications director, to send emails, call family, or update a Caring Page. It keeps everybody informed without being a drain on the person with cancer,” Finestone said.

4. Broaden your circle of supporters. Cancer treatment can mean that patients and caregivers spend all their time together. “Being sick can make the world a very small place,” Finestone said. “Even the happiest families don’t spend 24/7 together or they’d drive each other crazy.”

That’s why she encourages people to find time apart, even in the thick of treatment.

“There may be a friend you craft with or enjoy watching sports with,” she said. “It’s a way to get that respite for yourself and your family members.”

5. Learn to say no when necessary. “Sometimes it’s OK to say no to the demands of family or routine,” Finestone said. This might be anything from using paper plates during a tiring week, to opting out of hosting a family gathering. “It’s just another way to care for yourself and savor some downtime.”