Foundational Insights

We recognise that facing a cancer diagnosis, coping with cancer treatment and recovery have far-reaching impacts on the lives of individuals diagnosed by cancer and their loved ones. There is often not a part of a person’s life that is untouched by the experience.

Cancer treatment interferes with how you think, feel, move, and live. But it is possible to find a way to ‘live well’ during cancer treatment and recovery so that you can stay connected to your relationships, maintain your emotional and mental health and participate in the parts of your life available to you at that point in time

Here we tackle the three foundational areas that support living well during and after treatment – good nutrition, exercise and sleep!  We understand that trying to get to the key information about how to manage your health can be difficult. We offer a short guide to where to start. 

The purpose of this topic is to start a conversation with your Valion Oncology Care Coordinator about how to live well at whatever stage of your cancer treatment or recovery you are at.

Click here  to hear from one of Valion’s expert team members about the impact of fatigue and the key aspects to living well during treatment.

What are the key principles of good nutrition during and after tretment?

Three in five people with cancer will experience a nutrition impact symptom during treatment, therefore it is likely you will have questions specific to your cancer diagnosis and treatments! 

The advice you receive may be different depending on your stage of treatment and recovery. However, the following are some of the key principles of good nutrition that you should consider during and after your treatment to support living well:

  • Maintain a balanced diet and stay hydrated.
  • Ensure you are getting enough of essential nutrients (such as proteins, fats and vitamins) to support your energy needs, to heal and reduce the risk of wound complications and support bone health.
  • Reduce the risk of malnutrition – eating less than your body needs, eating the wrong kinds of foods or understanding if your body is unable to digest and absorb your food.
  • Protein foods are especially important during cancer treatment and recovery. TIP: eat the protein part of your meal first and try to snack on protein foods between meals.
  • Reduce or avoid alcohol altogether.
  • Seek help around how to manage side-effects that can interfere with good nutrition during treatment such as; dry mouth, changes in taste or smell, being unable to eat certain foods and drinks (i.e., spicy foods, hot/cold foods, doesn’t take the same), nausea, loss of appetite or interest in food, reflux, and chewing or swallowing problems.
  • Seek treatment or referral for eating problems leading to changes in weight that can interfere with your treatment or recovery (i.e., weight loss and fitting of radiation mask, medication absorption or effectiveness).
  • Understand how feelings can affect appetite and symptoms before, during and after eating (i.e., anxiety associated with anticipation of a meal or making a food selection, eating in front of others, or fear about having a negative experience during or after eating).
  • Stay on top of fatigue! Being more exhausted can influence our food choices, increase cravings or suppress our appetite, or being too tired to cook or finish your meal.

Places to Start:

For more specific questions about recommended diets, whether fasting is a good idea, if you are intentionally trying to lose weight during treatment, or if you are wanting to take a supplement to support your body during or after treatment it is important to speak with your doctor or treating team. 

All of these approaches have the potential to impact your treatment. It does not mean that you need your care team’s ‘approval’ to manage your health the way you would like, but it helps you make an informed choice if there are any known interactions or how your decision may influence your treatment or response. To explore more about how to approach these discussions with your team, talk with your Valion Care Coordinator.

Why is physical activity important and where do I start?

Being physically active is a key message that is delivered at all stages of cancer treatment and recovery. But why is exercise so important to living well during and after treatment? And how do you remain or get active when there is so much going on during your treatment or when you are trying to return to life?

Whilst most of us recognise the benefits and importance of being physically active, here are some of the key ways that physical activity can support living well:

  • improve and manage fatigue levels
  • optimise your energy and mental concentration
  • improve your coordination, balance and mobility
  • improve circulation, strengthen muscles and bones
  • improve your mood
  • reduce physical symptoms associated with anxiety and stress
  • help rebuild your confidence and relationship with your body
  • improve the quality of your sleep
  • restore a feeling of personal control and feeling of accomplishment
  • help you connect with friends, family and ‘being out in the world again’
  • reduce the risk of or help you manage other health conditions

The message about being physically active can sometimes bring up challenging emotions, including:

  • Feeling guilty that you had not been active for some time before you were diagnosed or that you don’t enjoy exercise.
  • Fear of becoming exhausted – you may be really struggling with getting through your treatment and the basics of the day and not feel this is realistic.
  • Feeling overwhelmed – you have been told that exercise can help with managing side effects, improve your treatment effectiveness or reduce your cancer risk but you can’t get started!
  • Feeling frustrated or demoralised- you were previously able to exercise at very intense levels and/or on a regular basis and are struggling with how exercise has changed for you (less rewarding).

Some is better than none, and more is better than less – but how much physical activity is recommended? 

The Valion Health Exercise and Cancer Guide steps you through moving through cancer, helps you think about the different types of exercise, where to start and how to approach this important aspect to living well.

Talking with your Valion Care Coordinator or care team about how to approach exercise if you have difficulties with extreme weakness or fatigue, nausea or feel you have lost conditioning and strength can help you build your confidence about exercising safely at home or participating in community exercise oncology programs.

Why is sleep so important and where do I start?

About six in every 10 people with cancer struggle with night-time sleep difficulties, and poor sleep. There are many factors that can contribute to poor sleep during and after cancer treatment. Getting a good night’s sleep can improve your quality of life and make it easier to deal with the other issues you are facing.

Poor sleep has been associated with reduced emotional well-being and mental health (risk of anxiety, depression), worsening existing problems with concentration and memory difficulties, exacerbating your fatigue levels, lower quality of life, higher rates of pain, and increased use of sedatives and alcohol use. 

Sleep is a complicated matter and there is a lot of information out there about how to improve sleep. We strongly encourage cancer patients to start with resources that recognise the specific issues that cancer brings to achieving better sleep, whilst also helping you under  the importance of good practices around your night-time routine, having the right amount of rest and activity during the day and achieving consistency with your wake time.

CAN-Sleep is a self-help guide that has been developed specifically for people with cancer. 

Prefer to listen to a podcast?

Sleep and Cancer is an episode that featured on the Cancer Council’s program “The Thing about Cancer” – that discusses the specific effects of cancer on sleep and understanding the science of sleep, with an expert Psychiatrist in the area of cancer.


Write down the key areas that you would like to focus on to support living well 

during and after treatment. What are the areas that your feel least confident managing at the moment?

Consider: What advice or information have you already been given? Which areas or aspects do you still have questions about? Where you are getting stuck managing or making changes? 

You can discuss this with your Valion Oncology Care Coordinator during your next session.

What are the main challenges or barriers to living well? 

  • Symptoms and side-effects limiting you – nausea and fatigue can be two of the most limiting factors when it comes to implementing exercise recommendations. 
  • Striving too hard to make change – setting unrealistic goals that may not align with your stage or treatment or recovery.
  • Sometimes our critical mind will kick into “all-or-nothing” thinking takes over – “the only way I can get to where I want to be is to get serious” and setting restrictive rules to follow. This can lead to boom/bust behaviour and overlook pacing.
  • Having an underlying concern that in order to safeguard yourself against cancer returning  you must “do everything you can”- this can lead to making lifestyle changes that may be difficult to implement or sustain and lead you to feel more anxious.
  • The impact of stress – stress and emotional symptoms can make it more difficult to make the right choices around food, sleep and exercise. We often choose immediate comfort over the choice that might better support us living well.

Tools to help you live well

  • MindfulnessCan help us to be more in tune with our bodies and identify what we need when. It has been shown to help us consider why we eat the way we eat and what our body needs (mindful eating) and support sleep quality.
  • Sometimes bringing information together and putting things into practice can be difficult. Click here to find out more about how to make lasting health behaviour change?

Resources: Where do I start?

The internet can be an overwhelming source of information when it comes to answering questions like “what is the best diet to follow during treatment?”, not to mention that can be outdated, misleading or inaccurate.  We recommended starting with the information available through trusted resources. These include;

Resources can sometimes be overwhelming because they are lengthy and it can be hard to find the information you need. Talk with your Valion Care Coordinator as they can help direct you to a specific resource, or give you some of the tips to follow.

Places I can go to access more support

  • Talking to your treating team – if you don’t have an appointment coming up you might consider contacting the team to make an earlier appointment

  • Contact your treating hospital to see if they offer cancer-specific rehabilitation programs or have allied health professionals that you can make an appointment with.

  • Speaking with your GP, they can prepare a Team Care Plan and refer you to a specialist or allied health professional in the community such as an  occupational therapist, incontinence physiotherapist, speech pathologist or oncology dietitian.

Key takeaways’s 

  • Making sense of how to live well during and after cancer treatment can be difficult due to amount of information available out there. Try to stick with trusted sources!

  • Choose an approach that works for you and your situation! Don’t feel pressure to adopt changes that don’t align with your stage of treatment or medical advice you have been given.

  • It is important to talk to your treating team or GP to check if the approach is recommended (or safe) for your stage of treatment or recovery.

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