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People with mesothelioma are all different, and the cancer affects them in different ways. Depending upon the type and stage of mesothelioma you have been diagnosed with, your physician will likely put you on a specific regimen designed to work with your particular protocol and treatment plan.
Patients often want to know what they can do for themselves in terms of foods or nutritional supplements to help their treatments, or what physical activities they will be able to pursue. Lifestyle choices can have a big impact on a patient’s comfort and overall prognosis.
Listen to Your Physician
First and foremost, heed the advice of your doctor. If you have been prescribed specific dietary guidelines (such as a low-fat diet or a low-sodium diet), that should be your primary consideration. The same goes for physical activity. If your doctor has prescribed rest, then rest.
Listen to Your Body
If you are disgusted by hot foods or can’t stand to eat in the evening, listen to your body. There is nothing wrong with choosing cold foods or eating only when you are hungry. Many people undergoing cancer treatment find they prefer to eat more earlier in the day and less at night. It’s better to listen to your body than to force yourself to eat supper and end up vomiting it all back up.
Try Smaller Meals and Eat More Frequently
Three balanced meals per day is great for most people — but it doesn’t work for everyone, and it may not work for you during treatment if you find your appetite decreased (or even obliterated). If you would rather “graze” throughout the day, or eat several smaller meals more often, that’s fine — do what you have to do to get food in and keep it there.
Keep Your Fiber Content High
If your treatment causes digestive problems like constipation, you should eat more fiber. Plant-based foods like oatmeal, bran, vegetables and fruits all contain fiber and tend to have a mild or pleasant flavor — ideal for someone who may be nauseous due to chemotherapy.
It’s Okay to Avoid Foods that Make You Feel Ill
Many cancer treatments affect smell and taste, and nausea is a frequent side effect of chemotherapy. If the smell of eggs nauseates you, don’t feel bad. It is normal to dislike some foods during cancer treatment, and if avoiding those foods keeps you from anorexia (loss of appetite) or vomiting, then don’t eat them. Stick with foods that are appealing and nutritious and avoid foods that make you ill.
More Solids, Fewer Liquids at Mealtime
If you have trouble eating enough nourishing food, or keeping it down, it’s important to make mealtimes count by filling up with wholesome food and drinking fewer liquids. It’s nice to have a glass of water to wash down a meal, but if you fill up on water and don’t have room left for dinner, you should drink fewer liquids and eat more solids.
When you are recovering from a mesothelioma treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, your body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrition may change. Do everything you can to maintain a healthy weight and meet your nutritional needs to avoid losing muscle mass. These goals may be difficult if your appetite shrinks or you have difficulty swallowing. A registered dietitian, can help you understand the symptoms that interfere with your goals and how to get around them.
Diet and the Side Effects of Treatment
Treatments for mesothelioma can cause side effects that make you uncomfortable or hurt. Side effects may even affect your appetite or your ability to absorb nutrients. A balanced diet following the above guidelines will help, but specific diet tweaks may counteract certain side effects:
- Dry mouth and dehydration. Eat foods that are nutritious and have high water content, like milkshakes, fruit, and gelatin. Avoid salty and dry foods.
- Avoid foods and ingredients that exacerbate diarrhea, like spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, fatty and fried foods, and raw vegetables.
- Increase your fiber intake with foods like bananas, whole grains, greens, and take fiber supplements. Drink plenty of fluids.
- Loss of appetite. To get all the nutrition you need despite your loss of appetite, try nutritional shakes. Eat smaller meals more often and eat foods that you do find appetizing, especially calorie dense foods like nuts.
- Mouth sores. Avoid foods that irritate your mouth, like spicy and salty foods. Opt for blander, softer foods. Mashed vegetables, smoothies and milkshakes are good choices.
- Nausea and vomiting. Avoid any food that makes you feel nauseated, usually strong-smelling foods. Instead, try bland, plain foods like plain toast, rice, or pasta.
Supplement and Vitamins
Nutritional supplements such as high-calorie or high protein beverages may be particularly helpful. Though many patients are interested in vitamin and mineral supplements, physicians differ on their usefulness. Some may be too strong for your system or may affect your treatment.
Do not take any type of vitamins or minerals without first asking your doctor. They may prefer a specific supplement to address a specific deficiency. One way or another, do not take any supplement that contains more than 100% of the recommended daily value of any vitamin or mineral, and remember that food is a better source of vitamins than pills.
Exercise and Activity
Moving around during and after cancer treatment is beneficial, if you can. Maintaining your physical abilities will help you feel better while keeping bones and muscles strong. Regular exercise can improve your balance and keep your muscles from becoming weak.
Exercise also contributes to your overall health, keeping your heart and lungs strong and improving your circulation. And getting up and moving around gives you a better sense of well-being and improves your quality of life. It will make you feel less dependent upon others and give you more energy.
Before you embark upon any exercise program, check with your physician. Remember to start slowly, as treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy may have diminished your ability more than you realize, or muscles may have been cut during a surgery.
Fatigue from Cancer Treatment
Both chemotherapy and radiation tire you out. This can make you resistant to exercise since you feel you need to rest. Unfortunately, this type of fatigue will not improve with rest and can jeopardize the health of your muscles and bones. One of the best ways to get over this symptom is through a regular routine of aerobic exercise. Getting out into fresh air and doing something of light to moderate intensity will likely help you feel much better.
Stress and Relaxation
Besides taking care of your physical health, your lifestyle choices after a mesothelioma diagnosis should support good mental and emotional health. Surround yourself with a positive support system, including friends and family as well as other cancer patients in support groups. Try relaxation techniques to maintain good mental health, such as yoga, meditation, or any other activities you find relaxing, including reading or listening to your favorite music.
Lifestyle choices may not cure cancer, but they make a big difference. Avoid smoking, drinking, overworking or socializing too much. Instead, make positive choices that will help your body heal, like a good diet, good nutrition, exercise, social support, and relaxation techniques. These will help you feel better as your treatment works to beat the cancer.
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Anne Courtney, AOCNP, DNP
Anne Courtney has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and is an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner. She has years of oncology experience working with patients with malignant mesothelioma, as well as other types of cancer. Dr. Courtney currently works at University of Texas LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.