If you are going through treatment for childhood cancer, it is important to attend all your medical appointments. Childhood cancer survivors are at an increased risk of developing other medical issues such as heart disease, weak bones, and lung problems. Regularly seeing your doctors will help prevent or manage these potential issues.
It may feel like all you do is spend your time at the hospital, but your doctors and other health care providers carefully plan your treatment and follow-up to best treat your cancer. Once you are finished with treatment, it’s still important to follow up with all your doctors and complete any recommended screening. Anytime you see a new doctor, always share your Survivorship Care Plan. For more information about possible long-term and late effects, visit the Children Oncology Group’s Survivorship Guidelines.
Physical activity is important for weight management, disease prevention, and cardiovascular health. It is recommended to get 300 minutes of physical activity every week.
The best way to meet the recommendations is be physically active for 20-30 minutes at a time every day. Physical activity doesn’t have to be going for a run or lifting weights at the gym. It can be anything that increases your heart rate. Try hiking, Frisbee® golf, or dancing. Choose activities you enjoy so that you are more likely to participate regularly. Check out Physical Activity tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for more information.
Eat a variety of foods that include lean meats (chicken, turkey, lean beef, fish), colorful vegetables (leafy greens, carrots, zucchini, eggplant, squash, peppers, fresh fruits (apples, grapes, pears, oranges, bananas, cherries), and complex carbohydrates (brown rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa, whole grain pasta, beans).
Nutrition seems to be one of the most difficult areas to manage for health, but it doesn’t have to be. Limit processed and sugary foods such as fried food, chips, candy, baked goods, soda, cereal. Remember, just limit these foods – there’s always room for a treat here and there. If you are over 21, limit your alcohol intake to 1 drink per day. Visit the CDC’s Nutrition Facts Label page to learn how to read a nutrition label.
During and even after cancer therapy, many patients feel very tired all the time. If you do not sleep enough, or sleep poorly, you are at an increased risk of obesity, getting sick, and depression.
Did you know that sleep is one of the most important parts of health? About 1/3 of Americans do not get the recommended amount of sleep. When you sleep, your body repairs any normal damage that happened during the day. Talk with your doctor if you feel like you are tired or sleeping more than expected. Try to find a balance of rest and activity during treatment. Check out the CDC’s recommendations for sleep each day based on age.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health – and they can affect each other. Make sure you take time for yourself when you feel overwhelmed or stressed. Read a book, go for a walk, spend time with a pet, or meditate. Ask to speak to a psychologist, social worker, or clergy member if you need to discuss your mental health.
Even after treatment is over, life doesn’t always return to “normal.” Connect with other patients and families during and after treatment. It’s always best to talk with someone who understands your situation.
You have a whole team of people ready to care for you both physically and emotionally. You may also benefit from regularly talking to a therapist or counselor about your experiences during and after treatment. In some cases, medication or specialized treatment may help with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. Talk with your primary care provider to help figure out the best course of action if you often feel sad or anxious. If you ever have feelings that you want to end your life, immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for free and confidential support. You can also call your primary care doctor or mental health provider. For more information, visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s Suicide Prevention page.
During cancer treatment, you may not be able to spend quality time with family and friends because you spend a lot of time at the hospital or you do not want to be exposed to illness. If you can’t spend time with your loved ones in person, make sure you connect with them virtually.
Technology today allows us to connect all over the world with apps like FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsApp, and many more social media apps. Being social with friends and family improves mood, which can have positive impacts on physical and mental health. If it’s safe, spend time with others in person to feel connected to life outside of cancer treatment. Be safe online, please. Consider following these guidelines from Safe Search Kids.
Too much screen time can lead to obesity, sleep problems, headaches, and vision problems. Try turning off the TV and staying off your phone an hour before bedtime so that your brain has time to “wind down.”
Technology is a great way to stay connected. It can also be used to learn and work. Sometimes too much screen time can be harmful. There’s no avoiding screen time in today’s world, but there are ways to avoid some of the problems that come with it. Consider reading a book or meditating before falling asleep. Take breaks when you can during the school and workday. Enjoy the natural light outside for a few minutes. Let your eyes and brain rest. Set limits on your social media apps. Most social media apps have the ability to limit your use during the day. Many people do not realize how much time they spend within these apps. Setting limits can help prevent overuse.
Did you know it’s important to exercise your brain just like you exercise your body? Childhood cancer survivors are at an increased risk for memory problems, thinking abilities, and problem solving.
Puzzles and games can not only be fun and pass the time while getting a chemotherapy treatment, but it can also help improve your memory and ability to think. Games on a computer, phone, or tablet can be helpful for improving brain health, particularly when they increase in difficulty. For extra brain health, find a game you can play with family or friends.
Reviewed: November 2020