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Hester ​Hill Schnipper​ ​

​Photo courtesy of Beth Israel D​eaconess Medica​l Center​

HOW OFTEN DO YOU ​intentionally engage in activities to improve your physical, emotional, psychological, social and spiritual health? For many of us, the honest answer to this question may be “not nearly enough.” But the routine practice of self-care can help heal our bodies and psyches as we recover from the challenges of cancer and its treatment.

As survivors, we may overlook the importance of making time for ourselves as we rush to get back to living. In fact, we may even feel frustrated and think that our bodies have let us down. I always tell cancer survivors that their physical and emotional recovery takes at least as long as the total duration of cancer treatment itself. In addition, for people with advanced cancer that can’t be cured, treatment will be ongoing, but their need for self-care is just as valuable to overall health and well-being.

No matter where we are in our treatment, we can find ways to better respect and heal our bodies and souls.

1) As you adjust to life with or after cancer, you will have to balance your needs with your obligations and the needs of the people around you. Focus on your needs and wants first, and work from there.

2) By following your doctors’ recommendations, you have done everything you can do to treat the cancer. Try not to look back and second-guess decisions you cannot change.

3) Well-being starts with basic healthy practices. Get enough sleep. Eat a healthy diet with fresh and colorful fruits and vegetables. Find ways to include activities in your daily routine that work your lungs and muscles.

4) Make a list of activities that give you pleasure, be they bubble baths, mystery novels, hot chocolate with marshmallows, time watching a favorite sports team or conversations with friends (even over Zoom). Choose at least one thing from your list to do every single day.

5) If you are an animal lover, think about adopting a pet. For example, a dog’s unconditional love and companionship can be treasures. If you’re not ready for a long-term commitment, look into fostering a pet through an animal rescue.

6) Slow down. There are no special medals given out for returning to your hectic life.

7) Reduce the noise. Stress can take the joy from our days, so focus on activities that restore you, and spend time with people who build you up.

8) When thinking of your to-do list, consider what tasks you can set aside, do later, do more simply or never do at all. It’s OK, especially now, to say no.

9) Consider taking a short trip by yourself. Even a visit to a nearby town to pick up takeout can offer a rejuvenating break.

10) Take part in a Japanese practice known as forest bathing—the peaceful cleansing of your spirit by walking in the woods. A beautiful or scenic place is ideal, but even a walk around a city block can be restorative if you are open to seeing it with new eyes.

Self-care is a process. Developing new habits and learning what to do to please yourself takes time for all of us, so indulge as you consider the possibilities. You are worth it. 

Hester Hill Schnippera licensed independent clinical social worker, is a breast cancer survivor who served as the manager of oncology social work at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.


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