BY LIZZY SMITH A strong immune system is essential in staying as healthy as possible. Especially when we are in the midst of cancer treatments, or on the healing side of recovery, a strong immune system is critical. Here are seven tips for getting your body in tip-top shape.
- Sleep: Aim for at least eight hours of sleep a night. Naps may also be in order. I know that for me, since I take a Dex-Velcade combo once a week, I struggle with extreme fatigue during the notorious Dex crashes. Don’t hesitate to build naps into your schedule when your body needs it. Proper rest is essential.
- Exercise: You don’t need to train for a marathon, but getting 30-minutes of exercise a day is optimal. Especially when we aren’t feeling that great, it’s tempting to become a couch potato. Do you best, though, to commit to getting up and moving around. Personally, I love power walks, hikes, and yoga.
- Proper Nutrition: Eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies and whole foods. Limit your intake of sugar, artificial sweeteners, and processed foods,. Click here for a more comprehensive list of immune-boosting "superfoods." Neutropenic and needing some tips on how you can eat fresh fruits and veggies? Here's a cooking demo to get your creative culinary juices flowing (as always, as your doctor before proceeding!). When I did my two stem cell transplants, eating loads of processed foods was gag-worthy. Finding a work-around to some of the required food restrictions was a relief.
- De-Stress: Chronic stress suppresses the immune system. It affects sleep, too, which then becomes a negative spiral—less sleep, means more stress, which means less sleep, which means more crankiness. What to do? There are ways of managing life’s challenges, which include meditation, spending time with close friends and family, and exercise. Seeing a therapist, joining a support group, or attending activities that you enjoy also helps manage stress levels. Additionally, massage, yoga and hot baths are also great stress-relievers. I really can't think of too many more stress-relievers than my Bikram yoga class, playing with my neighbor's puppy, cuddling up with my cat, or time at the spa getting a massage. Since getting cancer, I am more willing to indulge and feel less guilty for doing it. This was a huge mind-shift for me (and a welcomed one, I have to say).
- Build Positive Relationships: Those who have fewer friends and spend more time alone have much higher levels of stress than others. Refrain from becoming isolated and do activities that keep you actively involved with others around you. A close friend of mine starting volunteering in her community. She plays the piano at a retirement home once a week and has made amazing connections with some of the residents. She also takes her children to brush horses at a rehab farm near their home. She finds that her bouts of sadness and depression of diminished immensely.
- Have Fun: Especially when we aren’t feeling well and are undergoing treatments, life can become very “heavy” and serious. This is perhaps when we need to have fun more than ever. Go on vacation, watch a funny movie, engage in retail therapy, or try a crazy new hairstyle. An emotional and mental break is just what our immune system needs. During the break between my tandem stem cell transplants, I needed an emotional and physical break from cancer. After chatting with my doctor, I gathered up my two daughters and my parents, hopped on Amtrak and took a trip across the country. It was fun. This summer I went from a brunette to a blonde. I switched up my comforter in my bedroom and it's pretty, fresh and lively. Small things that make us small make our immune systems happier, too.
- Breathe Good Air: Invest in a good air purifier for your home or at least your bedroom. Dirty air suppresses our T cells, which are important to our immune system. I purchased a good purifier on Amazon for under $100 that takes up very little space in my bedroom. I also diffuse essential oils, like lavender-- both of which help me feel calm and peaceful.
With flu season in full gear, and my maintenance therapy medications suppressing my immune system, doing what I can do give my body a boost is an important part of my overall health plan. Consider making a plan of your own. It will help, I promise.
about the author
Lizzy Smith was diagnosed with myeloma in 2012 at age 44. Within days, she left her job, ended her marriage, moved, and entered treatment. "To the extent I'm able, I want to prove that despite life's biggest challenges, it is possible to survive and come out stronger than ever," she says.