After winning the battle against cancer, you may have a difficult time remembering what normal was for you. Or, you might even want to create a new normal. In either case, it’s important that you incorporate healthy eating and regular fitness into your life to strengthen your body and your immune system.
Easing Back In
Jumping back into your old routines right where you left off may not be wise or even possible. The effects of cancer treatments may linger for weeks and months. Your appetite probably decreased during treatment, therefore your stomach shrank and you can’t eat as much as you used to. You may get tired halfway through meals. Your senses of taste and smell probably changed and foods just don’t taste the way you remember.
Your activity tolerance probably decreased, as well. You might get winded climbing a set of stairs now. Lifting your child or grandchild might be more difficult than it used to because your muscles have shrunk. Your body systems will return to normal, but you have to give them a little time to realize that you won the cancer fight.
Start slowly. Make certain that the foods you’re able to tolerate are ones that you actually enjoy. Downing applesauce just because you can keep it down isn’t going to encourage your appetite to come back if you detest every bite.
If you can’t eat a regular amount of food, focus on getting good quality protein into your diet. A small portion of brown rice and red beans is better than a small cheeseburger. Nuts, beans, lean meats, and poultry are complete proteins that will allow your muscle strength to improve when you step up your fitness routine again.
Carbs for Energy and Focus
Incorporate complex rather than simple carbohydrates into your diet. Although the simple ones give you fast, short bursts of energy, complex carbs balance your blood sugar and keep your energy level steady throughout the day. Complex carbs also offer a greater variety of flavors, whereas simple carbs are usually laden with sugar. Your brain thrives on sugar, but staying alert calls for a steady blood sugar level. Highs followed by plummeting lows cause brain fog and will make you want to sleep.
Drink plenty of water and water-based drinks. Try mixing two or three varieties of herbal teas (iced or hot) for unique blends that offer an interesting departure from plain water. Stay away from sugary and highly caffeinated sodas.
Soda, whether regular or diet, contains empty calories or offers no nutritional benefit. If you don’t like tea but want your drink to taste like something, add crushed berries or a squeeze of orange, lemon, or lime to your glass.
Hail to the Treadmill
Your healthy diet will compliment your fitness routine, but don’t expect to handle a 60-minute spinning class your first day back. Whether lifting weights, walking the treadmill, or taking a Zumba class, take it easy at first. Give yourself time to build up your stamina.
Listen to your body. If you start to hurt, or become short of breath or dizzy, you might need to take it a bit easier. If you were able to stick with your exercise routine throughout treatment, you may be able to come back strong and ready to take that three day hike. However, if you can only tolerate short walks or light weights, do those until you feel you can walk farther or add another couple of pounds to the barbell.
Change It Up
Many cancer survivors decide to take on a new adventure or try an extreme sport. Whether it’s skydiving, snowboarding, or whitewater rafting, an extreme sport can test your level of endurance and help you create new memories of challenges you’ve overcome in addition to cancer. In effect, it will reframe that time in your life and put a personal best spin on the experience. Just remember to be safe. Get all the facts; seek out professionals and others who have “been there.” There’s no need to risk the life you just reclaimed.
Whatever your normal is, whether new or old, this is a time when you can redefine your life. Change some habits. Make some memories. Take on new challenges. It’s good to have you back.