Stomach cancer is a devastating diagnosis. While, unfortunately, there is no quick fix, there are a number of things patients can do to help them feel as well as they can during a difficult battle.
1. Learn how to make healthier choices
“For many people, finding out they have cancer helps them focus on their health in ways they may not have thought much about in the past,” says Linda Greef, the manager of GVI Oncology Social Work Services and founder-director of People Living with Cancer (PLWC).
She recommends thinking about the things that you can change to make your life healthier. This includes not only eating more healthily, getting exercise and cutting down on alcohol and tobacco, but also tackling vital changes like learning how to manage your stress levels and seeking out emotional support from your family, friends or even a counsellor or support group.
2. Revamp your diet
Your eating habits are one of the main things that will change after your stomach cancer diagnosis. While the disease itself affects the digestive tract, the treatment can also change a patient’s sense of taste, both of which affect how they eat and absorb nutrients.
Nausea is also a common problem for those who’ve had stomach surgery, and when joined by diarrhoea, cramping, low blood sugar, sweating and feelings of weakness or dizziness after eating, is known as “dumping syndrome”. Without a stomach, there is no way to regulate the amount of food entering the intestine, so after a meal, the food may be “dumped” too quickly into the bowel causing the syndrome’s side effects.
Luckily, these side effects can improve over time, but until they do, Greef recommends patients do their best to eat what they can, when they can. Other tips include:
- Eat smaller portions more frequently
- Don’t drink liquids with your meals
- Limit high-sugar foods but choose high-fiber foods when possible
- Chew foods well and eat slowly
- Lying down after your meal may lessen symptoms too
- Take supplements in consultation with your doctor to boost your vitamin and mineral intake
In some cases, patients will need a jejunostomy or gastrostomy tube – more commonly referred to as J-tubes and G-tubes – to help make sure they get the nutrition they need. These feeding tubes allows liquid nutrition to be fed directly into the small intestine or lower part of the stomach, and can prevent against weight loss and ensure the patient is getting the nutrition they need.
The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) also recommends limiting salt intake, eating a diet rich in vegetables and fresh fruit, and avoiding foods that are smoked, salted or pickled. There are a number of replacement food options that you can investigate in consultation with a dietician.
3. Fatigue and exercise
“Feeling tired is a very common problem during and after cancer treatment,” says Greef. She explains that while exercise may feel like the last thing a patient wants to do, it can actually help to deal with the intense fatigue. A health professional will be able to help you devise an appropriate routine, and finding an exercise buddy to help support and encourage you can also be very advantageous.
While changing your current lifestyle may seem very intimidating at first, you may be surprised at the long-term benefits that simple changes bring. Greef recommends starting by working on the things that worry you most, and seeking help where you need it. Many of these recommendations will not only change how you feel, but may also lower your risk of cancer recurring.
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