Tips for Living a Longer, Fuller Life With Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on May 14, 2022
4 min read

When you have cancer, there’s plenty you can do every day to not only survive cancer, but to feel better and live as well as you can. Whether you’re still in treatment or have completed it, here are tips for taking care of yourself.

Choose a well-balanced diet. That can give you both energy and strength. It should include lots of:

Cut back on:

  • Processed foods
  • Red meat
  • Desserts
  • High-fat dairy

If you’re going through treatment, you might need extra protein and calories. But side effects like nausea, trouble swallowing, or constipation might make you not want to eat. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist about ideas for healthy diet changes you can make so you get enough healthy food.

Be active every day if you can. You might not feel like exercising some days, but moving is so important for your physical and mental health. Exercise can help make your muscles stronger and improve your balance. It can make you less likely to get tired or depressed and might even help you live longer.

Try to get 30 minutes of aerobic activity every day. That's stuff that gets your heart pumping, like walking, swimming, or working in the garden. Work up to 2 days of strength training -- where you build your muscles -- each week.

Talk with your doctor before you start. They'll be able to give you some ideas on what exercises may work best for you. After you get some guidance, pick activities that you enjoy.

Cancer can do a number on your weight. You might lose pounds during treatment because you don’t want to eat or because of uncomfortable side effects. Some treatments, like those for cancers tied to hormones, like breast and prostate cancers, can make you gain weight. You might also get heavier because your routine has changed.

Ask your doctor what your healthy weight goal should be. Use a combo of eating well, exercise, and healthy habits -- like not spending too much time just sitting in front of the TV -- to reach that goal. Your medical team might have other ideas that can help keep you at the weight you need to be.

It’s important to have a support system you can turn to when you need it.

Don’t be afraid to accept help, whether it's to run errands, help out around the house, give you rides to the doctor, or prepare meals. It might also help to bring someone to your appointments, to make sure you get all the information you need.

It’s also key to have a person you can talk to about your feelings. In addition to family and friends, you might want to find a support group. Talking with people who are going through the same things you are can help you feel less alone and more like you're part of a community. Your doctor can help you find an online or in-person group.

It can be easy to think that everything has changed when you have cancer. But now is the perfect time to decide what's really important to you. Do all your favorite things, and spend your days with the people you like.

Try to create a new normal lifestyle and routine, but be open to changes as they come.

Stay away from tobacco. If you smoke, stop. And avoid people who are smoking.

Kicking the habit and staying clear of secondhand smoke will keep you healthier and stop you from getting another type of cancer.

Don’t give up if you stumble. It can take a few tries before you stop for good. Most people need help quitting, so reach out to your doctor for medicine or tips on how to quit.

Drinking can increase your chances of some kinds of cancer. It can also interact with some drugs during treatment and make side effects like mouth sores more likely. Alcohol also can be an unhealthy way to deal with the stress of cancer.

If you do drink, limit yourself to one beverage a day if you're a woman. If you're a man, two a day is the limit.

If you don't drink, don't start.

Stay in touch with your health care team. Don’t skip any checkups. Make sure you know what symptoms you should watch for and which follow-up screening tests you might need. Ask any questions you have about how you feel or what to expect.