Being diagnosed and treated for ABC takes a toll on a woman, both physically and emotionally. As with any condition that requires lifelong treatment, there are important changes to be made and these disruptions can be stressful and difficult to deal with.
Bear in mind that many women with ABC are able to lead fulfilling lives, thanks to advances in treatment, the advice of healthcare professionals and support from their friends, family and peers. Creating new daily routines, ensuring proper nutrition and rest can help with the physical aspect, but equal emphasis must be placed on emotional and psychological aspects too.
A personal plan comprising proper nutrition and appropriate exercises plays a big role in maintaining a good quality of life. Eating well and remaining active where possible enables a woman to maintain energy levels and mobility, which can contribute greatly to a woman’s overall sense of wellbeing and make treatment more bearable.
Nutrition plays an important role in a patient’s recovery and quality of life as it helps to:
- conserve or restore nutritional balance,
- minimise food-related discomfort associated with cancer or its treatment,
- heal body cells or tissues that are damaged during treatment,
- increase the body’s natural defence (immune) system against infectious diseases,
- avoid involuntary weight loss that can delay treatment, and
- improve strength for a better quality of life.
While it’s common for cancer patients to lose weight during treatment, a loss of more than 5 percent of her normal body weight within one month or more than 10 percent within the first six months indicates she is at risk of malnutrition. To get an idea of how much a patient should weigh, calculate her Body Mass Index (BMI) using this formula:
Weight (kg) = Ideal Weight (kg/m2)
Height (m) x Height (m)
As a guide, the World Health Organization (WHO) has published the following BMI scale for Asia :
BMI < 16 – undernourished
BMI < 18.5 – underweight
BMI 18.5 - 23 – normal body weight (increasing but acceptable risk)
BMI > 23 – overweight (increased risk)
BMI > 27.5 – obese (high risk)
Overall, gaining a better understanding of nutrition can help both the patient and caregiver make informed decisions about palatable, nutrition-dense foods that emphasise quality over quantity – this way, a patient need not eat large amounts of food to receive sufficient nutrition.
Remember to consume foods from all major food groups: breads and grains, fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy. It’s important to maintain a high-calorie intake for energy, and high levels of protein too.
In general, a serving of protein is equivalent to :
Remember that whole, fresh foods are preferable and foodstuffs such as internal organs and processed foods are not recommended.
Cancer treatment can change the way food smells and tastes, while pain and discomfort caused by the disease can have a negative impact on appetite. To overcome common challenges associated with diet, try these suggestions :
- Poor appetite or don’t feel like eating? Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. Try eating whatever sounds good, even if it’s not the healthiest option.
- Foods taste and smell different? Try eating foods that are tart or foods with stronger, more aromatic seasonings. Avoid strong-smelling meat such as beef or mutton; try chicken, turkey or eggs instead for protein.
- Mouth and throat feels sore? Choose softer, moist foods – mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, porridge, soupy noodles, milkshakes, or puddings. Hot foods can make soreness feel worse, so eat foods that are lukewarm or at room temperature.
- Mouth and throat feels dry? Hard candy, popsicles or fruit juice bars can stimulate saliva production. Add gravy or sauces to foods to make them moist and easier to consume.
- Trouble with diarrhoea or constipation? Increase fluid intake throughout the day to prevent dehydration and eat low-fibre foods such as rice, pasta, white bread, yogurt and smooth peanut butter. To ease constipation, get plenty of fluids every day, and consume high-fibre foods such as wholegrain breads, fresh fruits and vegetables, brown rice and beans.
- Feeling nauseous and/or wanting to vomit? Try eating bland foods such as toast, crackers, oatmeal, porridge and clear soups and liquids. If nausea persists, speak to a doctor about anti-nausea drugs.
Post-treatment exercises are intended to help patients regain strength and mobility, while relieving stiffness and body aches.
- Pendulum – mobilises stiff shoulders
With one hand holding on to the back of a chair or table, lean over and allow the free arm to hang down by the side of the body. Swing the free arm gently in circles, allowing gravity and momentum to move the arm. Repeat the movement 4-8 times with each arm, in both clockwise and counter-clockwise directions – this is one set; do 4-6 sets each time.
- Passive Flexion Arm Lift – improves shoulder mobility and reduces stiffness
Use the good arm to lift the painful arm – which should be kept relaxed – as high as it can comfortably go. Repeat 4-6 times to complete one set; do 4-6 sets.
- The Football Supporter – improves shoulder mobility
Grip the ends of a scarf, one in each hand, and lift it above the head. Slowly move the scarf from side to side, as though cheering a favourite football team. Start slowly as it may make the shoulder uncomfortable at first. Repeat 4-6 times to complete one set; do 2-4 sets.
- Triceps and Lats Stretch – relieves muscle tension and stiffness in the back, shoulder and abdomen
Lift one arm above the head; using the other arm, pull the arm downwards and slowly bend the body in the opposite direction, stretching the area just behind the armpit. Repeat 4-6 times to complete one set; do 2-4 sets.
- Elbow Extension – mobilises elbow joints
Standing upright, allow the arms to hang by the sides of the body. Raise the forearm up and down, alternately straightening and bending the arm at the elbow. Repeat 6-8 times to complete one set; do 4-6 sets.
- Wrist Flexion Passive – improves wrist flexibility and stretches forearm muscles
Sitting comfortably upright, raise both arms to shoulder level. Relax the wrist joints; using one hand, bend the other hand at the wrist so that the palm faces inwards. Repeat 4-6 times per wrist to complete one set; do 2-4 sets.
- Lumbar and Thoracic Side-Flexion Standing – relieves muscle tension and stiffness of lower and upper back
While standing, slowly bend to one side while sliding the hand down the outside of the leg; raise the other arm up and over the head for more leverage. Make sure the body bends to the side without leaning forward or backwards. Repeat 2-8 times per side to complete one set; do 4-6 sets.
- Side Flexion – stretches spine and reduces back pain
Stand straight with feet shoulder-width apart. Rest both hands on hips and bend over to one side. Be careful to bend to the side only, without leaning forward or backwards. Repeat 2-8 times per side to complete one set; do 4-6 sets.