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.

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 titled 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, call the cancer information nurses on the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237) or view the booklet on our website. The hospital will also have a dietitian who will give you advice on how to eat well during cancer treatment.

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.


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 a 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.

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.

Recovery and follow-up care

Recovery and follow-up are different for everyone and depend on the treatment you have. It takes time to recover from the various types of treatment: there are physical and emotional changes to cope with. You may need to talk with your employer about how the treatment may affect your work and with your family about the support that you need.

You will need regular health checks, which will include tests and examinations, after treatment is over. As well as checking to make sure your cancer hasn’t come back, follow-up visits can check whether any other physical changes have occurred as a result of the cancer or treatment.

You will need check-ups even if you haven’t had any sign of cancer for some years. This can make it difficult to put the experience of a cancer diagnosis and treatment behind you. For family and friends, your cancer may be a thing of the past, but check-ups may well bring it into the present for you again-you may feel quite anxious at check-up time. Finding ways of supporting yourself and taking care of yourself when a check-up is due is a part of living with cancer.

Life after treatment

During treatment, you may have been busy with appointments and focused on treatment, but afterwards you may feel anxious rather than more secure. You might worry about every ache and pain and wonder if the cancer is coming back. Regular check-ups and talking to your doctor about what to expect if the cancer comes back may reassure you.

Some people feel pressure from their family and friends to get back to their ‘normal life’. Everyone will eventually re-establish a daily routine, but it will be at their own pace and may be different from how things were in the past. Some people call this a ‘new normal’.

Give yourself time to adjust to physical and emotional changes. You may not be fit enough to do your usual activities around the house. If you’re returning to work, ease back into it slowly, rather than rushing back the week after leaving hospital.

Some people say that after cancer, they have different priorities and see life with a new clarity. For example, you may decide to spend more time with family, start a new hobby, travel or get involved in advocacy or voluntary work.

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