Living with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) can be challenging. The good news is that by making some lifestyle changes from the outset, you’ll help yourself feel better. You can even start these changes during treatment with the goal of easing the anxiety associated with taking medications and going through lengthy procedures and surgeries.
Eat a healthy diet
Choosing wholesome foods is an important behavior for everyone. When you have CML, though, it can be difficult to eat well. You may feel nauseous as a result of your medications or treatments. You might lose your appetite or gain or lose weight that you didn’t intend. All of these changes can make you feel like you’re out of your normal element.
The changes you experience with eating and taste are likely temporary and should get better with time. If you’re nauseous or otherwise not hungry, try eating small meals every two or three hours to keep your body’s nutrient and energy levels met. A healthy diet and stable weight can help you weather side effects. It can also help your body replace blood cells and tissues that are broken down by your treatments.
Good food choices include:
- fresh fruits and vegetables — at least five portions of each per day
- high-fiber foods, like beans and cereals
- water and other fluids
Also consider reducing your intake of red meat and animal fats, alcohol, and pickled or smoked foods.
If you don’t know where to begin with your diet, ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian. This specialist can help you create a personalized meal and nutrition plan. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society also offers a free one-on-one nutrition consultation for patients and caregivers.
While you’re at it, ask about any supplements you’ve read you should take. Omega-3 fatty acid, for example, may actually have a blood-thinning effect. St. John’s wort may decrease the effectiveness of certain medications. Discuss all supplements with your doctor before taking them on your own.
Along with moderating your alcohol intake, you should consider quitting smoking. The daily habit can be a risk factor for many different cancers, not just leukemia. And, no, it’s not too late to stop even though you’ve already received a cancer diagnosis. Stopping smoking can lower your risk of different complications with your treatments and surgeries, and it may also make your body and immune system stronger.
Kicking a habit like smoking can be difficult to do on your own. Speak with your doctor about different methods, such as support groups, hypnosis, and alternative nicotine products, like electronic cigarettes and vaporizers.
The last thing on your mind if you’re not feeling well is making time to exercise. Still, it’s an important part of keeping your body fit and strong, even during treatment. Working out can also help you ward off certain cancers, boost your confidence, maintain a healthy weight, and deal with symptoms of anxiety and depression.
If you’re starting exercise from very little activity, the key is to begin slowly. Your endurance and strength will vary depending on how active you were before cancer and where you are in treatment. Be kind to yourself and begin with short walks or hikes, cycling, swimming, gardening, or other low-impact activities. Focus more on moving and connecting to your body versus burning calories or meeting certain goals.
Always speak with your doctor before beginning a new fitness routine and about what workouts might be best for you.
Get enough rest
Cancer and related medications and treatments can zap your energy to almost zero. In fact, more than 50 percent of people who develop cancer experience cancer-related fatigue (CRF). You could feel extremely tired or fatigued even if you’re getting enough sleep and resting throughout the day. Even if you’ve completed most of your treatments, this tiredness may persist.
You may be used to going and going, but listening to what your body is telling you — to rest — is important to your healing process. Along with taking time to improve your sleep habits, exercising and nutrition changes can help. So can getting critical psychological support and trying stress management techniques. In some cases, your doctor may even prescribe medications.
Let your doctor know if your exhaustion is taking over your life. Your tiredness may be a marker of something like anemia, emotional issues, or lack of nutrition. It can be a side effect from pain medications. Or it may also be a sign that you have a medical issue, like underactive thyroid, infection, or issues with your heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, or neurological system.
Reduce your stress levels
It’s probably no secret to you that having CML is stressful. Even if your cancer is well managed, you may have feelings of anxiety or depression. Other common signs of stress include feeling hopeless, being on the brink of tears, and having difficulty concentrating. If you’re experiencing these feelings, speak with your doctor about referring you to a counselor.
Seeing a counselor can help you cope with your feelings. Your counselor may also be able to offer you suggestions for stress management techniques you can incorporate into your everyday life. These activities may result in better sleep, increased energy levels, and decreased anxiety. They include things like:
- deep breathing
You can perform stress management activities every day or as often as you need to feel better. Even just doing things you enjoy can help, so try to engage in activities that bring you joy.
When you’re feeling depressed or anxious during treatment, you may also want to isolate yourself. Resist this urge if you can. Now is the time to seek both mental and physical support. Surround yourself with friends and family members who make you feel good.
Of course, your friends and family can’t know the full extent of what you deal with on a daily basis. Consider connecting with people who do get it — others with CML. You can speak to your doctor about finding support groups in your local area. You can share stories with others and also tips on how to cope with your symptoms, side effects, and treatments.
The takeaway: Live your best life possible
There are many things you can do to improve your quality of life while you’re undergoing treatments for CML. Your doctor is a wonderful resource and can give you referrals to people and professionals who can help your start your journey in different areas.
While you may not be able to change the fact that you have cancer, you can make a pledge to yourself to live your best life possible. Try some of these lifestyle changes to stay as healthy and feel as good as you can.