Your overall health is a product of your physical, mental and social health. When one of these is compromised, the others are impacted and your well-being suffers.
Improving your well-being decreases your risk of illness, boosts your immune system, increases your longevity and speeds recovery. By making improvements to your physical, mental and social health, you can drastically improve your overall health.
Take tips from mesothelioma survivors who improved their health in order to respond better to treatments, as well as boosting their immune, nervous and digestive systems.
It’s in your best interest to remain healthy.
Survivors Who Changed Their Lifestyles
Medical breakthroughs and refinement of the best methods to treat mesothelioma have helped more people to live longer with the cancer. Though it rarely goes into remission and usually returns following treatment, doctors are better able to manage mesothelioma than ever before. And patients are taking an active role in their health, opting to seek out a more holistic approach to healing that addresses more aspects of their overall health. Rather than let the doctors be 100 percent responsible for the outcome, these patients did what they could outside the hospital to improve their chances of long-term survival.
As a biomedical imaging engineer, Jacob H. was already immersed in the health-care industry when he was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 2010. And he was already an active man playing intense sports like rugby. Prior to his surgery, he exercised more and ate healthier because he knew these efforts would improve his chance of survival. Following treatment, he continued with the healthy eating and returned to exercising once he recovered. Within three months of his operation, Jacob was back at work. “People have to understand progress is being made in this field. And every day, there is a miracle waiting to happen,” says Jacob.
Wayne N. was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma more than 20 years ago while in his 60s. Because he watched his wife suffer through chemotherapy and radiation therapy for her lung cancer without benefit, Wayne decided to pass on traditional cancer treatment. Instead, Wayne opted to improve his health through diet and exercise and continued with his daily red tart cherry regimen. Every night, Wayne eats nine red tart cherries, which he keeps stored in his freezer. He believes the cherries and his natural approach to boosting his immune system through diet, vitamins and fitness are what keep his mesothelioma in control.
Thoracic surgeon Dr. David Sugarbaker, of the Lung Institute at Baylor College of Medicine, diagnosed Rich D. with pleural mesothelioma in 2012. Although the diagnosis was a devastating blow to the Central Florida resident, he kept his hopes high by traveling around the country with his son — reinforcing their bond. However, after several treatments at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, including a lung-sparing pleurectomy/decortication, Rich has shown remarkable recovery. He now credits his good health to his faith in God, as well as tea made from Graviola leaves, a natural cancer-fighting product. Rich maintains an active lifestyle with his wife Aline.
Changes You Can Make
Just like other long-term mesothelioma survivors, there are changes you can make that may help you to live longer with mesothelioma. Taking steps to improve your physical, mental and social health will positively impact your immune system and overall health.
The cornerstones of physical health are diet, exercise and lifestyle. How well you eat, how much you exercise and how you live your life directly impact your physical health. Improvements in nutrition, fitness and lifestyle will positively affect your prognosis.
The impact of physical health on a cancer patient’s response to treatment is so important that the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) devised a scale for assessing physical ability, what they call performance status, which is considered a reflection of physical health.
There are six stages on the performance status scale ranging from zero to five. Lower scores indicate fuller physical ability and higher scores indicate increasing disability. This scale helps doctors gauge a person’s physical fitness, overall health and quality of life. When a person becomes increasingly physically disabled, they are less likely to respond well to cancer treatments. Research shows that a performance status score of two or less is a positive prognostic factor for mesothelioma.
It is possible to improve your performance status by making changes to your diet, fitness and lifestyle.
Throughout cancer treatment it is most important to eat enough protein and calories. Unless you rely on fast food or processed foods for most of your meals, do not worry about drastically overhauling your diet. Focus on eating a healthy diet that is rich in protein.
- Eat more protein during cancer treatment and recovery.
- Get enough calories during treatment.
- Consume more vegetables and fruits for added nutrition.
- Eat freshly prepared whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa.
- Try bland foods when nausea occurs.
- Consider liquid and mashed foods when mouth sores are painful.
- Limit sugar consumption. Opt for desserts made with protein-rich eggs.
While undergoing treatment and recovery it will be harder to get in the level of physical activity that is recommended to older adults. Slowly start to increase your activity level when you feel up to it. People who experience extreme fatigue during chemotherapy should avoid exercising until they fully recover from treatment.
When you feel well enough to exercise:
- Aim for two and a half hours of gentle to moderate aerobic activity each week.
- If moderate activity is too strenuous, only do gentle activities.
- Do strength training at least two days a week using light weight or body weight.
- Practice flexibility training two to three days a week, in sessions at least 10 minutes long.
- Ask your oncologist if physical therapy could help you recover from treatment.
Living a healthy lifestyle directly benefits your overall health. Some important lifestyle factors that impact your physical and emotional health include:
- If you smoke, find a program to help you quit.
- Limit alcohol consumption during treatment and recovery.
- Maintain a balance between taking care of responsibilities and fitting in downtime.
- Make time for daily self-care and try to reduce stressful factors.
- Have good personal hygiene. Wash your hands often and avoid contact with potentially sick persons.
- When traveling abroad, take extra safety and hygiene precautions.
How you think, feel and act is a reflection of your mental health. It is common and normal for people facing cancer to feel like their mental health is suffering. Thoughts and feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger and loneliness are common and shouldn’t be ignored.
Being mindful of how you think and feel — referred to as mindfulness — will help you tend to stressful thoughts and feelings as they arise. Once you realize that your mental health needs some loving attention, ask your doctor if a counselor is available through your cancer treatment center. Mental health counselors are trained to help people cope with life’s stressors in healthy, constructive ways.
- Talk about your feelings.
- Maintain ties with family and friends by keeping in touch on a regular basis.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Take little breaks from your responsibilities. Even a five-minute break can help reduce stress.
- Stay active to release brain-balancing chemicals.
- Do things you excel at and enjoy.
- Reach out for help when you need it.
- Care about someone else to remember how good it can feel to give care to others.
- Consciously find ways to reduce stress and responsibilities.
Socializing and maintaining healthy relationships is important to your overall physical and mental health. Poor social health can be bad for your health just like a poor diet or failing to exercise regularly. Feeling alone or isolated may lead to feelings of anxiety or depression, so it is important to consider your social health when facing cancer. When you have a network of friends and family to rely on for support, you feel more empowered to cope with the cancer experience.
Coping with mesothelioma and its treatment is overwhelming. Don’t try to figure everything out on your own. Reach out to family, friends and medical professionals for help. Dietitians can help you create a healthy meal plan, physical therapists can help you remain active, and mental health counselors can help you process the emotional component. Most importantly, be an advocate of your own health and keep your loved ones close. They’ll be ready to help you when you need it most.
- Be active in your community.
- Maintain healthy relationships with other people and yourself.
- Limit or let go of unhealthy relationships.
- If you feel guilty asking for help, try to understand why.
- Schedule time with family and friends to ensure you maintain an active social life.