Nutrition and Lifestyle for Mesothelioma Patients
People who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma are each different, and are impacted in a variety of ways. Depending upon the type of mesothelioma you have been diagnosed with and how advanced it is your physician will likely put you on a specific regimen that is designed to work with your particular protocol and treatment plan.
Patients are also often interested in learning about what they can do for themselves in terms of foods or nutritional supplements that may be beneficial or supportive of 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 a specific dietary guideline to follow (such as a low-fat diet or a low-sodium diet), that should be your primary consideration when asking the best way to keep nourished during the course of your treatment. The same goes for physical activity. If your doctor has prescribed rest, stick with it.
Listen to Your Body
If you feel disgusted by hot foods or can’t stand to eat in the evening, listen to your body. There is nothing wrong with choosing to eat only cold foods or to eat only during the times of day when you feel 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 when it tells you to eat or not eat something than to force yourself to eat supper and end up vomiting it all back up.
Try Smaller Meals and Eat More Frequently
Three well-balanced meals per day is a great guide for many 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 completely) due to the treatment you are undergoing. If you would rather “graze” throughout the day, or eat several smaller meals at more frequent intervals, that’s perfectly fine—do what you have to do to get food in and keep it there.
Try to Keep Your Fiber Content High
If you find that your treatment leaves you with digestive problems like constipation, you may find some relief in monitoring your fiber intake and trying to keep that number up to a desirable level. Plant-based foods like oatmeal, bran, vegetables and fruits all contain fiber and tend to have a mild or pleasant flavor—which is ideal for someone who may be experiencing severe nausea due to chemotherapy.
It’s Okay to Avoid Foods that Make You Feel Ill
Many cancer treatments have an impact on one’s sense of smell and taste—not to mention the nausea associated with many forms of chemotherapy. If the smell of eggs sends you over the edge of nausea and running for the bathroom, don’t feel bad. It is absolutely normal to feel aversions to some foods during cancer treatment, and if avoiding those foods keeps you from total anorexia (loss of appetite) or vomiting, then by all means—keep away. Stick with foods that are appealing and nutritious and shy away from foods that make you feel ill.
More Solids, Fewer Liquids at Mealtime
If you are having trouble eating enough nourishing food, or keeping that food down, it’s important to make mealtime count by focusing on 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 find that you are filling up on water and not having enough room left for your dinner, you may wish to cut back on consumption of liquids in favor of eating 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 undergo a radical transition. It is very important that you do everything that you can to maintain a healthy weight and make sure that your nutritional needs are being met, as well as that you avoid losing muscle mass. These goals may be difficult to meet if you are suffering from a decreased appetite or are having difficulty in swallowing. You will probably meet with a registered dietitian, who will help you understand the symptoms that may 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 even give you pain. These side effects may even affect your appetite or your ability to absorb nutrients. An overall, well-balanced diet following the above guidelines will help, but there are also specific tweaks you can make to your diet to 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 consider using a fiber supplement. 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 have differing opinions on their usefulness, and some may be too strong for your system or may impact the effectiveness of your treatment.
Do not take any type of vitamins or minerals without first discussing it with your doctor. They may have a specific supplement that they prefer that you take 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 sources are a better and healthier way of taking in vitamins than any kind of pill.
Exercise and Activity
There are many important benefits to getting up and moving around during and after cancer treatment if you are physically able to do so. The more that you are able to keep your physical abilities the better you will feel and the stronger your muscles and bones will be. Regular exercise can help you maintain and 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. Perhaps most importantly, getting up and moving around on a regular basis will give you a better sense of well-being and improve your quality of life. It will make you feel less dependent upon others and give you more energy.
If you are going to embark upon any kind of exercise program, make sure that you check with your physician so that you have a good understanding of any limitations or concerns that they may have. Once you have gotten their approval, 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
One thing that is very important for you to understand is that both chemotherapy and radiation can give you a feeling of fatigue. This can make you resistant to exercise and feel that 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 that is of light to moderate intensity will likely help you to feel much better.
Stress and Relaxation
In addition to taking care of your physical health, your lifestyle choices after a mesothelioma diagnosis should include 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 certain 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 bad choices like smoking, drinking, and 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.
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