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Self-Care and Lymphoma Treatment

Posted on November 15, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Mark Levin, M.D.
Article written by
Anastasia Climan

Self-care is a crucial aspect of lymphoma treatment that is sometimes overlooked. While your health care team is taking care of your medical needs, you need to prioritize taking care of your mental and physical health. It’s a time to focus on yourself and do everything possible to feel well. Self-care includes setting boundaries, reaching out for support services, and giving yourself permission to have fun and enjoy the world around you.

Since fatigue is a common symptom of lymphoma treatment, it’s more important now than ever to find moments of peace and joy in your day rather than getting bogged down by obligations or negativity. Get ideas and emotional support from members of MyLymphomaTeam who have experienced lymphoma treatment firsthand.

Connect With Nature (Indoors or Outdoors)

Go for walks or sit outdoors when you can. Outdoor physical activity is a great way to elevate your mood and boost your energy levels. This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to work out. Do not push yourself or engage in strenuous activities. Move as much as it feels good.

Simple joys such as bird-watching or taking a stroll through a garden can make the day special and help reduce your stress.

If the weather isn’t suitable for outdoor activities, create a container garden inside your home, or lounge by the window with a cup of hot tea or coffee. Even gazing out the window can be calming. As a MyLymphomaTeam member said, “One thing that brightens my day is looking out of my kitchen window at the birds that come to the bird feeder I have out there. Also, looking at my beautiful roses and the gorgeous blue sky.”

Harness the Healing Power of Music

Music has emotional and physical effects that you can use to your advantage when undergoing lymphoma treatment. Several studies point to the benefits of music on the emotional and physical impact of cancer treatment — including lessening anxiety, fatigue, and pain.

MyLymphomaTeam members use music in different ways, such as to unwind. “I have discovered that if I put on headphones and listen to music one hour before I usually go to bed, it helps me relax to the point I fall asleep really fast,” shared one member.

Music can also bring back happy memories and remind you of loved ones. “I finally got up the heart to put on my late husband’s collection of totally eclectic music,” said another member. “I am truly enjoying it. Classical, roots, folk, big band, Celtic, rock, and so on. I especially like acoustic.”

Singing along to your favorite songs can be therapeutic, too. You can download a karaoke app or look up the lyrics of artists you like.

Playing an instrument is another fulfilling way to pass the time at home. Whether you played in the past or want to learn, there are plenty of ways to go about it. Many music stores offer rental options for instruments if you don’t already own one. You could take lessons or follow along with online programs and tutorials to teach yourself the basics of any instrument.

Make Your Look Your Own

Hair loss from cancer treatment is often a concern for those undergoing chemo or radiation therapy. On MyLymphomaTeam, members discuss their worries and share how they’ve dealt with the issue. One member reached out to the group by asking, “How have you dealt with losing your hair? Losing hair is my biggest fear about going through chemo!”

Other members responded with words of advice and encouragement. “Go hairless proudly,” said one member. “I tried the scarf, but I decided I was still me, so to hell with those who stare. We’re with you!”

Others shared:

  • “I wore head coverings as much as I wore wigs. I ordered them from Amazon.”
  • “Hair grows back. I do have to admit it was hard for me at first, but you get used to it quickly. It saves a lot of extra time.”
  • “I enjoyed my wigs. I ordered from Paula Young. You don’t have to fix your hair, and it was on in a few minutes! A friend who had cancer told me about this place. The prices are very reasonable.”

If you’re losing your hair, experiment with different looks until you discover something that feels like your style. Whether that means a shaved head, a head wrap, a hat, or a wig, put some intention into the look you choose. For eyebrows or eyelashes, try using an eyebrow pencil, stick-on eyebrows, or false lashes to feel more like yourself. For some guidance, call a local esthetician and make an appointment to help you find the right products. Consider it part of your cancer care plan.

Your appearance can also change because of weight fluctuations due to medication and treatment side effects. Finding clothing that you like and that fits you well at your current size will make it easier to get out of the house and engage with the outside world.

Seek Meaningful Human Interactions

Whether you’re socializing virtually (due to a compromised immune system or COVID-19 precautions) or can meet up in person, use this time to maintain and even strengthen some of your relationships. It’s OK if you don’t have the energy to go out and attend social gatherings. Instead, invite one or two people to stop by for a movie or meet up at the library or a local museum. You could also schedule a virtual meetup if you’re not up for a face-to-face outing.

Sometimes friends and family members don’t know how to be supportive when a loved one is going through lymphoma treatment. By taking the first step to connect, you’ll reassure them that you’re up for seeing them, in whatever way is best for you.

Cherish Your Bedtime Routine

Sleep is essential after lymphoma treatment, but it doesn’t always come easily.

Members on MyLymphomaTeam shared tips for getting some shut-eye. “I have trouble getting off to sleep at night. Trying to relax is so stressful,” said one member. “Recently, I have had luck with online audiobooks. The only downside is not knowing where I dropped off, so I lose the story!”

Trying to stick to a consistent bedtime schedule — getting into bed and getting out of bed at the same time every day — can help regulate your circadian rhythm. Adding special touches, such as misting your sheets with essential oils or getting a nice pair of new pajamas, can make bedtime more enjoyable.

Create Something To Understand Your Experience

The journey through lymphoma treatment challenges you in new ways. It can alter your perspectives, priorities, goals, relationships, and life in general. Document your experience to help make sense of this time of reflection. You can write for yourself in a private journal or write for others through a blog or online message board.

If you prefer to express yourself visually rather than verbally, try painting, drawing, or taking photos. These activities can help you understand and accept what you’re going through. And if you choose to share, you could also help others.

Practice Mindful Meditation

Mindful meditation has been shown to relieve anxiety, promote feelings of calm, and improve sleep and mood. According to the American Cancer Society, meditation may also help lower blood pressure. There are many ways to practice meditation, including focusing on deep breathing or taking slow, mindful walks outdoors. The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offers several free guided meditation videos you can try.

Differentiate Between Self-Care and Self-Indulgence

The term “self-care” is sometimes conflated with "self-indulgence," which can be defined as the “excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s own appetites, desires, or whims.” However, while self-indulgence can include destructive behaviors, self-care is about making healthy choices to promote well-being and nourish your body, mind, and spirit.

It’s OK to treat yourself on occasion, but drinking too much alcohol, smoking, binge eating, spending money you don’t have, or indulging yourself in any form to the point of excess should be avoided during lymphoma treatment. If you find yourself falling into unhealthy behaviors, consider meeting with a therapist or finding a support group to help you develop better coping strategies. By switching the focus from self-indulgence to self-care, you’ll give your body the best chance of a successful cancer treatment outcome and good quality of life.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyLymphomaTeam is the social network for people with lymphoma and their loved ones. More than 9,800 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lymphoma.

How are you focusing on self-care during your treatment? What advice do you have for others? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyLymphomaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Mark Levin, M.D. is a hematology and oncology specialist with over 37 years of experience in internal medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anastasia Climan is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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