Knowledge to Health

Knowledge to health offers you information about cancer and how to deal with the side effects of treatment better. There is an abundance of misconstrued information regarding genes and cancer and therefore the CARER Program offers you an exclusive informative audio by a renowned Genetic Counsellor. Over here you learn everything about cancer in the genes, genetic testing, epigenetics and what can be done if you do have a higher risk of a specific cancer to due to genes.

Additionally, we understand the financial strains one goes through due to cancer treatment. We are often left helpless and clueless on how to move forward with such financial constraints. The title “Managing you Finances”, provides you with easy to implement processes for financial planning.

Managing Side Effects of Treatment

Nausea and Vomiting

One of the most common side effects of treatment is nausea and vomiting. This is predominantly due to the fact that chemotherapeutic drugs damage the cells that line the gastrointestinal tract. There are other triggers that stimulate these feelings such as, smell, taste, sight, motion, anxiety and pain. Some common ways to combat nausea and vomiting are the following:

  • Eat nutritiously rich, smaller meals or snacks throughout the day. Don’t force yourself with larger quantities of food, take your time, chew slowly and thoroughly and be mindful in the process.
  • Try and sit in an upright position and if you need to rest after, do not lie down completely. Keep your head raised for an hour or two after eating. It is also important to eat in a quiet and relaxed environment with plenty of air.
  • Drink plenty of water and keep yourself hydrated. Maybe even adding a squeeze of lime in the water to fight nausea. Avoid drinking too much during mealtimes as this can fill you up and make you feel bloated.
  • Rinse your mouth frequently to avoid bad tastes and odours.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly by inhaling through your nose and exhaling long out breaths through your mouth.
  • Other methods that help are guided imagery meditations, relaxation and acupuncture. You can try and use the meditations in this program to help.

Fatigue is again one of the most common side effects of treatment and is usually not dealt with in the right manner. As a cancer exercise specialist, I notice that people tend to fear any sort of movement when they are fatigued as basic tasks might seem much more difficult than usual and therefore we don’t move at all. This is natural and rest is imperative however a successful way to combat fatigue is actually movement. I don’t mean over exertion or any kind of movement that is strenuous, but basic yoga asanas, a gentle walk, stretching or even deep breathing practices can do wonders for fatigue. Movement releases endorphins in the body, which then gives you more energy. Therefore following your yoga classes and graduating from level 1 to the next, you will find yourself having more and more energy, while feeling less fatigued.

Some tips include:

  • Spread your activity throughout the day.
  • Rest when you feel like it and don’t over exert yourself. Take your breaks and have your power naps. We all love it.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Lack of appetite/taste buds

Unfortunately treatment can have a profound affect on your taste buds and the ability to ingest food. The most important factor to keep in mind is to make sure adequate nutrition is being consumed. This is to strengthen your immune system, decrease your risk of infection and have more energy, while recovering faster. Therefore it doesn’t necessarily mean larger quantities but more nutritiously dense foods. The good thing is that your taste buds will return to normal and appetite will increase in time.

Common ways to deal with these changes are:

  • Try opposite tastes to balance taste changes. Such as adding a pinch of salt to sweet.
  • Try cold or room temperature foods if you have a metallic or bitter taste in your mouth.
  • Add natural spices, flavors and condiments for bland tastes such as ginger, garlic, lemon, cinnamon and so on.
  • Brush your teeth and tongue or rinse your mouth frequently to avoid bad taste and smells.
  • Stick to eating smaller meals more frequently that are calorie and nutrient dense.
  • Stay hydrated throughout your day.
Hair Loss

Losing your hair is an extremely taxing and debilitating issue that we can face. We salute those who wear their shaved heads in pride however to be affected emotionally by the loss of hair is absolutely understandable as well. The most encouraging fact is that it will grow back in time.

  • The hairpieces and wigs available today are incredible and almost better than the real deal.
  • If fake hair isn’t your thing, then try headscarves, caps and turbans that look fantastic. It’s almost a trend now.
  • Not everybody loses their entire hair and in that case stick to natural, mild shampoos and hair products.
  • Consider cutting it short.
  • Use soft brushes and don’t tie it too tight.
  • Sleep on satin pillowcases or soft fabrics to avoid your hair from pulling and shedding.
  • We addressed other physical changes in the counselling segment.
Digestive System – Diarrhea / constipation

You often forget the physical and mental disturbances that come along with a disrupted digestive system, until it happens to you. Diarrhea and constipation being the most common ones, it can most definitely have an extreme negative impact on your daily life and day-to-day activities. This happens due to some cancers themselves or the treatment and medication. Digestive issues are not meant to be taken lightly and must be dealt with in the best way possible.

When it comes to diarrhea or excessive bowel movements try and do the following:

  • Hydrate yourself, as there might be substantial losses of electrolytes from the body and do this by drinking tepid water in smaller doses constantly through the day.
  • Coconut water is a fantastic natural hydrator and if permitted by your doctor, it a great source of electrolytes as well.
  • Try to avoid spicy or rich foods and eat them at room temperature.
  • Eat smaller more nutritiously dense meals frequently and avoid drinking too much water during mealtime.

For constipation, here’s what might help:

  • Try and add more fiber into your diet such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
  • Stick to warmer liquids and try prune juice or prunes if its suits you and your taste.
  • Try and eat at regular time everyday to regulate bowel movements.
  • Avoid, cheese, bananas and refined carbohydrates that can be highly constipating.
  • If gas becomes an issue, avoid gassy foods such as beans and carbonated beverages.
  • To relieve excessive constipation speak to your doctor about taking medication or natural fiber supplements.
  • Movement is a great way of stimulating your digestive system. Try and be regular with your yoga practices or any other physical activities.
Anxiety/frustration/emotional distress

Feelings of fear, anxiety or even panic attacks are more so the side effects of the illness and what you have been through. You might also feel frustration with yourself, your body and your situation and the first step is to recognize that majority of those who go through cancer, if not all have gone through some kind of emotional distress. So, this is very normal. The intensity of these emotions can dissipate, elevate or remain the same in time, either way it is important to deal with it and here are a few steps to take:

  • Deep breathing is a simple yet powerful anxiety release technique. During times of panic and stress, there are physiological changes that take place within our body, some of which usually results in shallow breathing, constricted chest, tightness in body and perspiration. This is the time to not ignore or flee the emotion in your mind but acknowledge it, close your eyes and concentrate on taking long deep breaths, inhaling through nose and exhaling through the mouth. Picturing an inflated and deflated balloon in the pit of your stomach as you breathe in and out. Please refer to our quick release anxiety meditation that can be done anywhere at anytime in the day.
  • These feelings most often disturb sleep as well so we have created sleep mediation exercises that you can practice every night to help you sleep more soundly.
  • Don’t bottle up your feelings. We can’t stress more on the importance of talking to someone. Be it a therapist who will have concrete tools in coping with your emotions or a family member who might be more of a support system. Express your emotions and release your fears by acknowledging them.
  • Also, speaking to like-minded individuals have been through your journey might be extremely beneficial. A cancer support group or another person who has been through cancer can put you at ease as they share their perspective with you.
  • Avoid metabolically stimulating beverages, such as coffee and energy drinks.
  • If the situation is getting worse or beyond your control please speak to your doctor about medication.

Peripheral neuropathy is often induced by chemotherapy and can be a frustrating and sometimes painful experience. It is often felt as tingling, numbness or pain in certain areas of your body, particularly the extremities such as hands and feet. It is always advisable to speak to your doctor about this however some of the ways in which you can deal with neuropathy are:

  • Make sure you are able to fully feel and manage the steering wheel, accelerator and breaks while driving.
  • Check water temperatures by a thermometer.
  • Take precautions such as wearing rubber gloves while cutting vegetables, using hot dishes and cleaning utensils.
  • Massages can help circulation and pain.
  • Acupuncture is a great pain management therapy and can also aid in alleviating other symptoms.
  • You can visit a rehabilitative therapist, cancer exercise specialist or a yoga therapist to help in strengthening of muscles that are weak, while restoring balance and coordination.
Sexuality and Intimacy

Sexuality is such a taboo topic in our culture but one that is imperative in living a healthy stress-free life. Having a healthy sex life and sharing a strong intimate relationship with your partner is vital however unfortunately treatment and cancer (such as hormonal therapy, prostate or cervical cancers) may alter sexual desire and loss in libido for both men and women. There are substantial physical implications that take place however you might be greatly affected mentally and emotionally as well. All of which are interconnected. There are many products in the market that you can use in order to stimulate your sex drive, which would most probably target only the physical aspects of the issue however we also urge you to speak to a therapist or healthcare practitioner about the emotional factors that you might be encountering. Here are some ways in which you could target this side effect of treatment.

  • Firstly change your thinking. Erase the preconceived notion that sex is just intercourse. Sex goes beyond that. It is being sensual, intimate and connecting with another individual on a deeper level than just physical. Real sexuality was always going beyond the body, so why has the body become interference now? Rather than being ashamed of it, open up to this new thinking.
  • Once you have understood the importance of this perspective, realize that connecting to your sexuality is key and there are many ways of doing so. Have you ever wondered why creative people are so sensual? It’s because creativity is one of the most effective ways in expressing yourself and hence also one of the most effective ways in connecting to your sexuality. Therefore find something you love doing. It could be painting, cooking, writing or gardening and then indulge in it. Set out a time for expression and let this be your expression hour, even if it’s a couple of times a week. Sexuality is connection so build a connection with yourself, your form of expression and express that through an activity.
  • Raise your sexuality to the level of intimacy and not just sex. Touching/hugging/kissing your partner can do wonders to the way you feel. It is important to create the atmosphere and engage in caressing. Caressing can be just lying together or holding each other. This will cause an automatic stimulation that could lead to arousal.
  • We have created a therapeutic expression exercise, which is called the temple of love. We urge you to give it a go and try this with your partner.

It is extremely discouraging to realize that many of those who have gone through treatment and can be at risk for lymphedema are not informed about it. It is a prevalent side effect of conventional treatment and must be addressed.

So what is lymphadema? As said by the renowned Cancer Exercise Specialist Diana Sadtler, unlike our heart, the lymphatic system does not have a pump to transport the lymph fluid, which travels in one direction throughout the body. When fluid is not moving or “pumping”, lymph fluid builds up in the area in which the lymph nodes were removed or radiated causing swelling, disfiguration of the limb and general discomfort. Unfortunately those who have gone through this are at risk for lymphedema for the rest of their lives. If not dealt with, lymphedema occurs in stages and is irreversible at a particular stage after which it can also be life threatening.

Therefore to prevent toxic build up and swelling, the lymphatic system depends on physical movement to squeeze the fluid through the entire body for proper drainage. Activities such as yoga, weight training, aerobic activity, group fitness class, biking, hiking, just to name a few, increases your heart rate which increases the movement of blood. The increased blood movement acts as the “pump” and moves lymph fluid throughout the body resulting in decreased swelling.

Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. It’s imperative to seek out a qualified professional who has worked with cancer patients for an exercise program specific to your needs. Other ways to stimulate the lymphatic system include gentle massage, compression bandages, pumps or garments.

  • Optimal lymphatic function
  • Mobility of muscles, joints and connective tissue
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Increased range of motion at the joints close to affected area
  • Increased functional movement
  • Improves quality of life
  • Improves emotional health

A source for finding lymphatic drainage garments can be found in the “For Women” section of the CARER program. Moreover there are a series of lymphatic drainage exercises provided in the program which can be done on a daily basis. You can download the lymphadema workout sheet from move to health section of the CARER program and follow the instructions.

Memory Loss

Memory loss or cognitive deficits can pose as a major side effect of cancer treatment. Please make sure your doctor is aware of this issue and if it persists for a long duration of time, it can be suggested to consult a Neuropsychologist.

Other various tools to combat memory loss are:

  • Keep a notebook. This notepad, notebook, portable planner or personal organizer can serve as a handy resource in keeping you up to date with tasks and chores you need to remember. It can include a to-do list, appointment information, medication schedule and important telephone numbers and addresses.
  • Write down and repeat important information aloud to yourself as auditory repetition can help in keeping the information alive in your mind.
  • Exercise your mind by brain strengthening activities. These include crosswords and puzzles, learning a new language or hobby, painting and or concentrating on creating something.
  • Physical activities such as walking and swimming can do wonders for your mind. Yoga and meditation keeps the mind relaxed and aids in regaining mental clarity.
  • Eat nutritiously enriching foods that help boost cognitive functioning and get plenty of rest and sleep.

Genetic Counselling

For cancer patients who are on the road to recovery it is important to be aware that some cancers might be of a hereditary nature. Consistent surveillance and changing one’s lifestyle can dramatically reduce a person’s risk of relapse of the same or a different cancer. In this audio clip, Genetic Counsellor, Meher talks about the co-relation between cancer recovery and lifestyle and also eradicates the myths associated with genes and cancer.

Meher Randhawa

Genetic Counsellor

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Managing your finances

We cannot deny the fact that cancer is a very expensive illness and therefore it’s our prerogative to help you move forward keeping this in mind. Financial strains can be very taxing. Managing your finances might be a dry topic during your recovery, however we cannot stress any further on the importance of just knowing how to deal with this expensive illness and managing the situation ahead.