What can I do to help myself?

Many people feel that there is nothing they can do when they are told they have cancer. They feel out of control and helpless for a while. However, there are practical ways you can help yourself.

A woman chopping vegetables

Diet and food safety

A balanced, nutritious diet will help to keep you as well as possible and cope with any side effects of treatment. The Cancer Society’s booklet called Eating Well during Cancer Treatment/Kia Pai te Kai i te wā Maimoatanga Matepukupuku has useful advice and recipes. Phone your local Cancer Society office for a copy of this booklet, phone the cancer information nurses at the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237), or view the booklet on our website. The hospital will also have a dietitian who can help. 

“Nutrition wise, I changed from week to week. I got to the stage where I didn’t like beef anymore. I got into vegetables. I was into wholesome food. Now my cupboards don’t have any processed food.” Silei

Food safety is of special concern to cancer patients, especially during treatment, which may suppress immune function.

To make food as safe as possible, we suggest you follow these guidelines:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before eating.

  • Keep all areas and utensils you use for food preparation clean, including washing hands before preparing food and washing fruit and vegetables.

  • Handle raw meat, fish, poultry, and eggs with care, and clean carefully any surfaces that have been in contact with these foods.

  • Keep raw meats separate from cooked food.

  • Cook meat, poultry, and fish well, and use pasteurised milk and juices.

  • Refrigerate food quickly to reduce bacterial growth.

  • When eating in restaurants, avoid foods that may be contaminated with bacteria, such as salad bars, sushi and raw or undercooked meats, fish, poultry, and eggs.

  • If there is any concern about the purity of your water (for example, if you have well or tank water) have it checked for bacterial content.


Many people find regular exercise helps recovery. Research has shown that people who remain active cope better with their treatment. The problem is that while too much exercise is tiring, too little exercise can also make you tired. Therefore, it is important to find your own level. Discuss with your doctor or nurse what is best for you.

New research shows exercise may be better for your immune system than any other therapy. Recent publications show that maintaining a normal weight and exercising may reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

For more information on the benefits of regular physical activity for people with cancer, phone the cancer information nurses on the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237) or contact your local Cancer Society to receive a copy of our pamphlet Being Active When You Have Cancer.

People playing soccer

Photographer: Nicole Freeman

Relaxation techniques

Some people find relaxation or meditation helps them to feel better. The hospital social worker, nurse, or Cancer Society will know whether the hospital runs any relaxation programmes, or may be able to advise you on local community programmes.

“When it was painful I transported myself to the market with fresh fruit at home. I went to songs that have no words that reminded me of home, like streams and natural sounds. I imagined myself at moments throughout my lifetime - special places on the beach, certain things we did as children. I took myself there.” Silei

Complementary and alternative therapies

Complementary therapy is a term used to describe any treatment or therapy that is not part of the conventional treatment of a disease. It includes things like:

  • acupuncture

  • relaxation therapy/meditation

  • yoga

  • positive imagery

  • spiritual healing/cultural healing

  • art

  • aromatherapy/massage.

Complementary methods are not given to cure disease, but they may help control symptoms and improve wellbeing.

Alternative therapy is a term used to describe any treatment or therapy that may be offered as an alternative to mainstream treatments. It includes things like:

  • homeopathy

  • naturopathy

  • Chinese herbs.

Alternative treatments are sometimes promoted as cancer cures. However, they are unproven treatments, as they may not have been scientifically tested, or, if tested, they were found to be of little use. They can also be expensive.

It is important to let your doctor know if you are taking any complementary or alternative therapies because some treatments may be harmful if they are taken at the same time as conventional treatments.

Seeking advice from health professionals

If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about your treatment, it is important that you discuss any concerns with those involved in your care, including your general practitioner (GP).