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A survivor’s guide to living a healthy life after cancer

A survivor’s guide to living a healthy life after cancer

The basics of living a healthy lifestyle remain the same with or without cancer
Illustration showing the cancer ribbon and a few examples of healthy food
Representational image | Shutterstock

A cancer diagnosis can be devastating. But Manoj Upadhyay, a 55-year-old CRPF sub-inspector who has been cancer-free for three years now, had a simple suggestion when asked for the one piece of advice he would give those who are diagnosed with cancer: “Be positive, everything is possible.”

Upadhyay had been diagnosed with third-stage colon cancer in 2017. Following two years of treatment, he has now been cancer-free for three years.

Life after cancer is a heavily discussed topic. There are numerous questions and concerns that plague the issue regarding the wellbeing of a survivor. But as is testified by both research as well as the survivors who spoke with Happiest Health, life after cancer need not be too different from living a healthy life irrespective of cancer.

Three aspects of a healthy life

A healthy lifestyle for cancer survivors can be broken into three aspects which include their diet, exercise, and sleep.

“I have asked him to incorporate foods that provide him with more fiber while trying to avoid high-fat foods, red meat, and alcohol,” says Dr Pankaj Pande, a surgical oncologist at Fortis Hospital in New Delhi who treated Manoj Upadhyay. “It also goes without saying that smoking must be stopped. Partaking in simple daily exercises like walking and so on should also be his priority. This in-turn has to be complemented by taking ample amount of rest at the end of the day”, he further stressed.

Limiting the consumption of processed foods is also of importance. These suggestions aren’t particular to any patient, they are the rules that should be generally followed by survivors of gut cancer. Basically, the factors of risk that can be influenced before or after contracting cancer should be altered as best as one can.

Modifiable risk factors

Cancer that is caused by genes is unavoidable and can only be treated. Albeit fortunately, genetically caused cancer is limited to 5 – 10 percent of all the cancer cases registered in the world.

Overall, if one wished to reduce the chances of contracting or relapsing cancer, they would have to work on avoiding certain things that they may like to indulge in. These include:

  • Cigarette smoking, including exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Excess weight (A prime risk factor for colon cancer)
  • Alcohol
  • Red meat (linked with increased risk of bowel cancer as per health authorities)
  • Physical inactivity

While it is important for people who have never encountered cancer to follow these steps, it is even more stressed upon for people who are getting back to their life after cancer.

Life after cancer

‘After having beaten cancer, I have motivated nine people out of whom eight have managed to win the battle too. I have a positive approach to life now, especially after all that has happened,” says Upadhyay.

After having been cancer-free for three years he says that he never lost his will to fight and cited his daughter as his main pillar of support through the severe treatment he had to go through.

When asked about how different his life was now compared to what it was pre-diagnosis, he said it wasn’t very distinct, especially since so much time has gone by since he was first treated. The fear of it relapsing is always going to be there, however, that doesn’t prevent him from living a full life and trying to help other patients who have been diagnosed with the disease.

“Post-treatment, I would say that he resembles any common man in terms of the life he is able to lead. All he would have to do is maintain a healthy lifestyle and that should be fine for him” Dr Pande agreed.

One aspect that would differentiate Manoj’s life from a common man’s though are the tests he has to regularly undertake.

Tests and their intervals

Along with the regular tests, there are also a set of different tests like CT scans, blood tests, tumor markers and even colonoscopy and endoscopy, that must be conducted to make sure that the cancer hasn’t relapsed.

“There is always a chance of it coming back,” warned Dr Pande, adding that the chances of it returning are relatively less after three years of being cancer-free. Even so, the cancer-survivor would be put on life-long surveillance.

Constant check-ups a must

Dr Pande advises that survivors stay closely in touch with their doctors and get regular check-ups done. “There are high chances of the cancer relapsing within two years of having treated it.”

The basics still apply: Eat healthy, avoid alcohol and tobacco, exercise regularly and closely monitor your weight.

“Cancer is curable and life after that, possible,” he concluded.

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