Living Well After Cancer Treatment

Once you’ve finished active cancer treatment, you might be feeling lots of things: Joy that it’s over, relief that side effects are easing up, perhaps some anxiety that it’s not truly over. All these feelings are normal. Your healthcare team can help you prepare for and manage this all-important transition to a new way of life after cancer. 

While many side effects go away, some—like dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, changes in your senses of taste and smell—may linger. You may have lost weight and want to put it back on in a healthy way. Or, if you were overweight before cancer, your healthcare team may be recommending you start making changes to slowly lose those pounds once and for all. It may sound surprising, but there has never been a better time than now to make positive changes in the way you eat and live. 

Embrace the new normal. 

Through cancer, you’ve learned to have a very close relationship with your body. You’ve learned how it reacts to different treatments, and how even small changes can be powerful. Now, you can use what you’ve learned to continue to move your lifestyle in a healthier direction. Try making some small, manageable changes at first, says the University of Arizona’s Cynthia Thomson, Ph.D., RD. For example, try adding an extra ½-cup serving of vegetables to your plate at dinner, or grabbing a piece of fruit for an afternoon snack instead of chips. “Once you’ve made a small change and succeeded at it, your sense of self-efficacy builds,” she explains. “And that will motivate you to keep going and doing more.” 

Take the long view. 

Cancer changes a lot. But it hasn’t changed the person you are inside … the person who wants to do all you can to stay healthy, feel good and be there for the people who love you. All along the road from diagnosis to treatment to post-cancer, you’ve gained wisdom and skills that are already showing you the way to a healthy, vibrant life that makes the most of every moment. 

Going forward, be sure to tune into your internal wisdom from time to time. Stay mindful of the things that matter to you most and use them as motivation to help you make healthy changes that will benefit you in the long run. Whether it’s staying healthy to spend more time with your kids or grandkids, or to keep doing the work you do, keep your eyes on the prize. 

Make healthy choices.

The American Cancer Society’s guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention were developed to help people reduce their risks of getting cancer, but they’re also a great way to eat and exercise during your treatment, recovery and beyond. Consider your diagnosis extra motivation to make them part of your life!  

  • Limit high-calorie foods. This will help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, one of the most important cancer-fighting strategies known. The Body Mass Index (BMI), which is based on your height and weight, can help you determine your healthy weight range. Try the BMI calculator at 
  • Be active. Shoot for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (think: brisk walking, yoga or gardening) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (e.g., jogging, singles tennis) each week. 
  • Eat more plant foods. Fill at least two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruit, beans and legumes, and grains. Eat at least 2½ cups (five servings) of fruits and veggies each day, aiming for a colorful mix. Make at least half of your grains whole, looking for “100% whole grain” on labels.   
  • Limit processed meats and red meats. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends avoiding processed meat, and eating no more than 18 ounces of (cooked) red meat weekly.   
  • Be moderate with alcohol. If you drink alcohol, limit it to no more than one drink per day for women or two per day for men. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits. 

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