There’s no doubt that colorectal cancer will change your day-to-day life. But the right strategies can help you to prepare yourself to handle the disease and how it makes you feel.
Here are some of the most common everyday challenges the disease can bring and how you can handle them.
Make a list. You may be in and out of doctors’ offices and hospitals for a while as you go through treatment. Keep a notebook or your smartphone with you to note any questions you have for your doctor before you go. Don’t be afraid to ask for more details if there’s something you don’t understand.
Get copies of your medical records. Ask your doctor’s office for a copy of your file, including blood test results, scans, and reports. This way you’ll be prepared in case you need to talk to another health care provider down the line.
Keep track of how you’re feeling. Jot down a quick note every day about how you’re doing, including any medicine you’re taking and symptoms you have. Take this to your next doctor’s visit, since it could help him adjust your care.
Eat This, Not That
Watch your carbs. Too many processed or sugary foods that are high in carbohydrates can raise the odds your cancer will come back after treatment.
Choose low-fat foods. A fatty diet brings more acid into your intestine, which might lead to cell damage and help tumors grow. Instead, eat lean poultry, low-fat dairy products, and “good” omega-3 fats like you find in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), walnuts, and canola oil.
Limit red meat, especially processed, cured, or salted kinds (like bacon). They can hurt your colon. Don’t eat more than two 4-ounce servings a week -- and when you do, opt for lean cuts with excess fat trimmed off.
In the Bathroom
Be prepared. Diarrhea is common after treatment for colorectal cancer, especially chemotherapy and radiation. You may feel you can’t control your bowels at first. But the problem usually gets better once your treatment is over.
Take baths and change clothes when you need to. Wearing pads or another protective liner can help keep you dry. Also, let your doctor know if you’re having diarrhea a lot.
Keep an eye on your output. If you have surgery to remove cancer from your colon or rectum, your body can’t handle waste in the same way. So you may need to wear a colostomy bag to collect your stool during or after treatment, whether for a short time or permanently. If you have one, it’s best to change it in the morning before you eat or drink anything. During the day, drain the bag when it’s one-third full (of stool, urine, or gas.) If you wait, it may be more noticeable or harder to empty.
In the Bedroom
Talk to your partner. You might worry that he or she won’t be interested in sex because of your cancer, or if you need to use a colostomy bag. Talk about what to expect, privately or with a therapist, so you know each other’s feelings.
Be discreet. There are ways you can make your colostomy bag less obvious, which will help you feel more at ease. Empty it or change to a smaller one before you and your partner get intimate. You can also use a stoma cap for the opening, then cover the area with a bandage. Dimming your bedroom lights will help, too. Your doctor or therapy nurse can help find you find the best option.
Other Changes to Make
If you smoke, quit. Lighting up makes your treatment less effective and increases your risk for side effects. Talk to your doctor if you need help quitting.
Stay active. Thirty minutes of exercise each day, even walking, can boost your immune system and help keep the cancer from coming back. If you haven’t been very active before, start slow, even with just 10 minutes of exercise at a time.
Manage your stress. Whether it’s yoga, meditation, or reading a good book, find a way to keep anxiety in check. Too much stress makes it harder for your body to heal.
Find support. Look for a group in your area or online where you can share your feelings with others going through the same things. If you’re a more private person, think about scheduling time to talk one-on-one with a counselor. Writing your worries down in a journal can help, too.