Dear Friend

Self care in cancer refers to self-directed habits or practices you can undertake alone or with people in your community. Self care is usually inexpensive and often doesn’t require a health professional.

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Dear Friend

We’ve grouped much of self care into our 7 Healing Practices. We can’t overemphasize how powerful these seven practices can be. They can enhance your quality of life and strengthen resilience to achieve better outcomes with conventional therapies. They often also have anticancer and pro-healing effects of their own.

You don’t need to do all the 7 Healing Practices. How much you want to do depends on your goals for this part of your life.

I’ve known many people who weren’t interested in these healing practices. Many did fine living doing whatever conventional and complementary therapies made sense to them.

The secret to self care is simply caring about yourself. Let it be real. Do what makes you feel better. Do what you believe is worth doing. If you slack off, just pick yourself up and start again. But only if you’re drawn to continuing.

Sometimes it’s helpful to find community for self care. You can join one of our cancer groups at our sister program Healing Circles Global. Or you can find healing community wherever you feel most comfortable—with neighbors, your faith community, or any other trusted place.

Love is the greatest healing power. Self care is love. It’s not always easy to let ourselves love ourselves. But it is at the heart of healing.

Wishing you well,

Michael

Michael Lerner Co-Founder
Michael Lerner Co-Founder

First, understand that you did not cause your cancer. However, you can improve your health so that cancer cannot grow as easily in your body. We know that certain exposures or lifestyle choices may support cancer growth. Worldwide, an estimated 44.4% of cancer deaths are attributed to risk factors that you may have some control over:1GBD 2019 Cancer Risk Factors Collaborators. The global burden of cancer attributable to risk factors, 2010-19: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. Lancet. 2022 Aug 20;400(10352):563-591. 

  • Behavioral factors include use of tobacco or alcohol, poor diet, low physical activity, and more
  • Environmental and occupational factors include occupational risks, air pollution, and other exposures
  • Metabolic risk factors include high body mass index and high blood sugar

Healthy habits

These four healthy habits can promote your health and wellness. They may also change your body’s environment so cancer is less able to grow and spread:

  1. Manage your weight
  2. Don’t smoke
  3. Limit alcohol
  4. Hydrate

Taking control of your health

Your treatment plan may include surgery, radiation, or drugs to treat your cancer. Although these therapies are designed to eliminate most of the cancer cells, they are not designed to keep cancer from returning. Usually some cancer cells survive, and we must count on our own internal anticancer defenses to kill the remaining cells and keep cancer from recurring. We need to meet conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy cancer treatment where it leaves off, letting healthy lifestyle practices carry the baton from there.

The power of adopting a healthy lifestyle is in making your body less supportive of cancer and other diseases. Cancer does not occur at random, nor does it grow in isolation. It develops within an environment that is either more or less supportive of cancer, depending on several factors, including our individual body terrains—our internal environments. 

How we interact with the environment around us can influence our body terrainthe internal conditions of your body, including nutritional status, fitness, blood sugar balance, hormone balance, inflammation and more—what we eat and drink, what we breathe in, how we respond to stressors, and what we are exposed to, including viruses and bacteria, chemicals, radiation, and sounds. 

Some of these factors may be beyond your control, but you may be able to make some changes to make your body a less hospitable place for cancer to thrive going forward. Self care is about identifying those areas you can influence or change, and then finding support for making whatever changes you choose.

Your choices in self care

Self care in cancer refers to health-promoting habits and practices that

  • You can implement largely on your own at low or no cost
  • Can powerfully enhance the quality of your life
  • Can make you a healthier, more resilient person
  • Are supported by evidence

These practices are accepted by professionals across the medical spectrum, but they may not be emphasized enough in your conventional care. 

Self care in cancer includes the 7 Healing Practices and 4 Healthy Habits. All are grounded in Exploring What Matters Now. These are powerful tools to help you care for yourself proactively and to rebuild your health. Self care and complementary care can be intertwined, as many complementary therapies can be used to support self care.

Example: mind-body therapies can offer support in Sleeping Well and Managing Stress.

These practices and habits may be easy to gloss over as being less important or effective than drugs or other approaches. But they are commonly known for supporting your health and wellness, allowing you to take full advantage of other treatments.

Reducing your side effects may mean you can complete your conventional treatments as well as enjoy a higher quality of life.

Physician, researcher, and CancerChoices advisor Dean Ornish, MD, explains lifestyle medicine.

Choose practices that appeal to you

We offer a wide array of options for you to consider, similar to an appetizer tray circulating at a party. You don’t have to try everything, and in fact that would probably overwhelm you. Instead, take a look. Find what appeals to you. Sample it. If it’s good, you may come back and try some more. Maybe you can try something else, too.

Make changes on your terms. Do what is reasonable and possible for you. We don’t expect you to be perfect, and we encourage you not to expect so, either. Instead, we’re here to help you take whatever steps you choose to build your health and resilience.

These steps may help you withstand the rigors of cancer treatment. Your choices can take you into and through your whole cancer experience so you can land in the best place for you.

Common benefit

Our daily choices in life have a direct, measurable impact on cancer and other chronic diseases.2Cohen L, Jefferies A. Anticancer Living: Transform Your Life and Health with the Mix of Six. New York: Viking. 2018. p xii. Many of the risk factors associated with cancer are also risk factors for other diseases:3The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency, Western States Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit. A Story of Health E-Book. Accessed from the Collaborative on Health and the Environment September 20, 2021.

  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Unmanaged stress
  • Poor or insufficient sleep
  • Social isolation
  • Exposures to tobacco smoke, pesticides, radiation, traffic-related air pollution and other toxic substances

Several or all of these factors are known to increase risks of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and neurocognitive disease. Some are also linked to reproductive difficulties, learning disabilities, asthma, birth defects, depression and other mental-health issues.

Traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease are related to increased risk of cancer, while a heart-healthy lifestyle is linked to a lower risk of future cancer. Factors that reduce these risks (Life’s Simple 7):4Lau ES, Paniagua SM et al. Cardiovascular risk factors are associated with future cancer. Journal of the American College of Cardiology: CardioOncology. 2021 Mar, 3 (1) 48–58.

  • Stop smoking
  • Eat better
  • Get active
  • Lose weight
  • Manage blood pressure
  • Control cholesterol
  • Reduce blood sugar

Authors

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Reviewers

Whitney You, MD, MPH

Research Consultant
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Dr. You is a physician specializing in maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) with a specific interest in cancer in the context of pregnancy. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in health services research with a focus in health literacy and received a Master of Public Health.

Whitney You, MD, MPH Research Consultant

Miki Scheidel

Co-Founder and Creative Director
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Miki Scheidel is Co-founder and creative director of CancerChoices. She led the effort to transform Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies, the prior version of CancerChoices, to its current form. Miki and her family were deeply affected by her father’s transformative experience with integrative approaches to metastatic kidney cancer. That experience inspires her work as president of the Scheidel Foundation and as volunteer staff at CancerChoices. She previously worked with the US Agency for International Development and Family Health International among other roles. She received her graduate degree in international development from Georgetown University, a graduate certificate in nonprofit management from George Mason University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Gettysburg College.

Miki Scheidel Co-Founder and Creative Director

Last update: August 23, 2022

Last full resource review: August 2021

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.

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