The Role of Self-Care and Spirituality in Cancer Care

A cancer diagnosis is the kind of news that drops even the strongest person to their knees. It forces you to immediately face your mortality, which most of us are oblivious about until it may be too late for meaningful reflection. Modern medicine has made several types of cancer manageable, but even in these cases, treatment and uncertainty can pile considerable emotional stress onto a major physical burden. The stress of a cancer diagnosis can, however, be managed through a combination of self-care and spirituality.

Self-care and cancer

Self-care is a buzzword for adding comfort as a way to bolster one’s overall well-being. Comfort is especially helpful in battling cancer and managing the physical and emotional demands of treatment and the disease in general. Self-care can come in numerous varieties, with some diseases calling for different methods to achieve maximum comfort.

Some examples of self-care that are effective in cancer include:

  • Rest. Treatment is physically draining. Rest and proper sleep may be difficult to attain but is important for overall health and building strength for the battle.
  • Balanced diet. Chemotherapy adversely affects appetites. Some with cancer find that food tastes very bland, which makes healthy eating problematic. Work with your care team, which should include a dietician, to identify healthy food choices.
  • Exercise. Talk to your doctor about whether exercise is appropriate. You may feel too tired to do anything, or some light activity might help. One idea is to do some stretches when you’re not well enough to work out. The benefits of stretching include releasing tension, improving mood and energy, reducing pain, and promoting good circulation.
  • Mindfulness about treatment goals. Self-care includes understanding your treatment plan. Treatment is easier to bear if you fully understand its short- and long-term purpose.
  • Enjoying hobbies and activities. It’s easy to get lost in one’s care, especially in cancer treatment. Take time to walk away mentally from your disease when you can, and take part in activities that bring you joy.

Spirituality in cancer care

Spiritual wellness is a crucial component of cancer management. Spirituality does not necessarily mean religion, but rather refers to a sense of understanding about one’s place in the world and the universe. It can mean embracing a higher power, such as a faith in God, or it can refer to mindful meditation on oneself. Spiritual wellness helps cancer patients accept that at least a portion of their care and prognosis is completely out of their hands.

Ways to attain spiritual wellness include:

  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Relaxation
  • Yoga
  • Personal affirmations

Each of these connects a cancer patient with themselves, their environment and their reality. Such self-reflection, in turn, becomes a component of self-care, which aids treatment.

Dangers present in care

Cancer treatment also presents risks that can be difficult to balance against the benefits of certain therapies and medications. For these reasons, some later-stage cancer diagnoses avoid such treatments in favor of palliative care — increasing comfort and preparing for end of life.

For those with a manageable diagnosis, however, there is a risk of painkiller addiction. There are more people who struggle with addiction than those who have cancer, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. Pain management is a key goal in treatment, which may necessitate the use of opioids. The risk of dependency should be discussed with your care team, and steps taken to reduce the risk of addiction. For example, acceptable comfort levels may be set to avoid over-prescribing of an opioid where a different pain reliever may be effective.

Cancer treatment requires patient input and involvement in care goals. Self-care, spirituality, and understanding the risks and rewards of treatment can help in developing a clear plan.

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