A lot of cancer survivors say they view their lives in three stages: life before diagnosis, life during treatment, and life after cancer. And if there ever were a silver lining to having cancer, it may be that cancer survivors tend to value and appreciate their health more than people who have never been seriously ill.
Having experienced what it’s like to live with and be treated for a serious illness, one main “life after cancer” goal is to focus on making healthier lifestyle choices that can reduce the likelihood of getting cancer again— or any other serious illness for that matter.
Lifestyle Choices that Affect Your Health
As a cancer survivor, it’s important to understand that the steps you can take toward living a healthy lifestyle are very similar to the steps anyone (even those who have never been ill) can take toward living a healthy lifestyle. Wise lifestyle choices can include:
- Staying physically active. Regular exercise can contribute to a much-needed boost in both physical and mental health. Even low-impact activities like walking can influence your present and future health for the better.
- Eating a nutritious diet. The saying “you are what you eat” has a lot of truth. In general, a diet rich with healthy foods (vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and lean proteins) will leave you healthier than a diet full of processed, packaged, and high-sugar foods that have been proven to contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and unhealthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Watching alcohol intake. Too much alcohol isn’t good for anyone, but if you do choose to drink, do so in moderation. According to the American Cancer Society, women should limit themselves to no more than one drink per day, and no more than two for men.
- Limiting sun exposure. Long-term and/or excessive sun exposure can contribute to skin cancer. As often as possible, stay inside during the heat of the day (between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm) when the sun’s rays are strongest. Also consider protecting your skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 15 that shields out both UVA and UVB rays.
- Not smoking. It has been proven time and time again that smoking and chewing tobacco are harmful to your health. A healthy lifestyle has no room for tobacco or vaping.
- Getting checked regularly by your doctor. If you do become ill or have concerning symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner the cause is detected and diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin.
- Take any medicines as directed. It is important that you take any prescribed medicine as directed and refill your prescriptions in a timely fashion. Even if you “feel fine,” never discontinue a prescription medication without an OK from your doctor.
- Show up for your regular cancer screening schedules. Just because you’ve beaten cancer doesn’t mean you should stop getting screened. If you develop a recurrence or a new type of cancer, the sooner it’s identified the sooner you can begin treating it.
Healthy Habits are Especially Important for Cancer Survivors
Living a healthier lifestyle can benefit anybody. However, it is especially critical for cancer survivors. According to the American Cancer Society, survivors of many cancers, such as breast cancer and skin cancer, are at an increased risk of developing a second cancer or having a cancer recurrence.
From altering certain thought processes to creating healthier routines, many cancer survivors come to realize that leading a healthy lifestyle after cancer takes work. If your pre-cancer life involved unhealthy habits, such as avoiding exercise, frequently eating fast food, drinking a bit too much, working to maintain your tan, etc., now is your chance to incorporate change. As a survivor, you’ve entered that third stage of life that can (and should) be the beginning of a new, healthier you.
Keep in mind that as you transition to a healthier lifestyle, you don’t have to do it alone! Recruiting family and friends to join you or talking with other survivors at a support group are great ways to stay motivated and hold yourself accountable for the choices you make regarding your health. And, it will benefit them, too!