Healthy You - Every Day

6 Tips to Thrive During Cancer Treatment

Surgical oncologist Lori Alfonse, DO, offers the advice she shares with her patients

Receiving a cancer diagnosis and starting treatment can be very difficult for individuals and their loved ones.

“The minute someone is diagnosed with cancer, their minds become filled with many emotions and concerns,” says surgical oncologist Lori Alfonse, DO, Deputy Physician in Chief of Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute. “However, it’s important to know that treatment advances have come a long way over the last decade, and it’s possible to thrive throughout all stages of your cancer journey.”

To help women thrive during cancer treatment, Dr. Alfonse offers tips she often shares with her patients:

Get plenty of rest

Getting a good night’s sleep is good for everyone, but it’s especially important for individuals undergoing cancer treatment. This is because sleep deprivation can weaken the immune system, affect mood and decision-making skills, and make side effects of certain cancer treatments worse.

“As is recommended for most people, adults with cancer should try to sleep at least seven or eight hours a night,” Dr. Alfonse says. “If your symptoms, the side effects of your treatments or concerns about your diagnosis are keeping you up at night, be sure to speak to your care team. They will be happy to prescribe medications or provide referrals to other specialists.”

Eat well

Eating regular meals comprised of foods with lots of nutrients (specifically proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals) will help you maintain your energy and strength, tolerate treatments and lower your risk for infection.

Some cancers and treatments can affect your appetite or ability to eat. If this is the case, be sure to reach out to your care team for support.

Acknowledge your feelings

I always tell my patients that mental health is just as important as their physical health throughout their cancer journey,” Dr. Alfonse says. “Cancer can be scary and overwhelming, and it often changes the way our bodies look and feel. It’s completely normal to be scared, angry, or even depressed. If you feel those emotions, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

If you are struggling with difficult emotions while undergoing cancer treatment, be sure to talk to your care team. They can help you access supportive resources like social workers, financial counselors and mental health professionals.

Stay active

Research has shown that exercising during cancer treatment and staying active in general can improve energy levels and quality of life.

If you are an active person, it’s best to discuss your typical routine with your care team to determine what adjustments may be necessary. If you aren’t as active, your clinicians can make recommendations for light exercise and activities that may have a positive impact on your life during treatment.

Take precautions against infection

Cancer and its treatments (especially chemotherapy) can weaken the body’s immune system and make it hard to prevent and fight infections.

Because of this, it’s important that individuals with cancer:

  • Wash their hands often, especially before eating, after touching public surfaces and after using the bathroom
  • Limit contact with people who are sick
  • Stay up to date on flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines/boosters
  • Take a bath or shower every day
  • Brush their teeth twice a day using a soft bristled toothbrush
  • Avoid natural bodies of water and public swimming areas
  • Watch out for signs of infection and contact their care team if they have them

Your care team can determine your specific infection risk and provide you with prevention tips tailored to your lifestyle and hobbies.

“The key to thriving during cancer treatment is great care and an excellent support system.” - Lori Alfonse, DO

Find a supportive and multidisciplinary care team

“One of the most important things when you are diagnosed with cancer is finding a care team you trust,” Dr. Alfonse says. “Having access to a multidisciplinary team of experts who will work together to determine the best treatment for you is also a must. It means that specialists from different disciplines in oncology are considering all the possible treatment avenues and selecting the right path for your specific diagnosis.”

Personalized care at Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute

Dr. Alfonse works with a team of radiation oncologists, hematologist oncologists and other cancer specialists at Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute to develop individualized treatment plans for patients and provide access to a wide network of clinical trials. The Cancer Institute also offers various supportive services for patients and nurse navigators who help set up appointments and guide individuals through their journey.

“The key to thriving during cancer treatment is great care and an excellent support system,” Dr. Alfonse says. “At Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute, we are dedicated to supporting each of our patients through every step of their journey, starting the minute they call for an appointment.”

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute

Leading Edge Cancer Care, Close to Home

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute is a member of the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Alliance, which provides patients with even more lifesaving care options, and holds numerous national patient safety and excellence designations.

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