10 Tips for Cancer Patients for a Holiday Immune System Boost

Health & Wellness

The holidays are an exciting time filled with family, friends and delicious foods. With extra shopping, gatherings and the current COVID-19 pandemic to think about, they can also be very stressful.

When our immune systems are weakened our bodies become more susceptible to illness. Avoiding all viruses and sources of stress are particularly important for those with mesothelioma.

If you are receiving treatment at this time it is vital to stay as healthy as possible. The following tips will give you some ways to do just that.

1. Eat More Plant-Based Foods

Plant-based foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes. They are loaded with immune-boosting antioxidants and phytochemicals.

Such compounds give these foods their taste, color and smell. Don’t forget to add some herbs and spices to the mix for an extra boost of nature’s bodyguards.

2. Vitamin D

Exposure to sunlight has been used for centuries to treat diseases. However, it wasn’t known until modern day that vitamin D is what gives the sun its protective effect.

Our bodies make vitamin D through the sunlight we receive, but for most of us, it is not enough to generate a sufficient amount.

Recent studies show that people with lower levels of vitamin D are more susceptible to infections. A simple test through your physician will determine if you require a supplement.

3. Sleep

During busy or stressful times, sleep can often be disrupted. This may be intentional (parties or gatherings) or it could be unintentional (staying awake with worry and anxiety from treatment).

We have all heard that sleep is important for wellness, but studies have actually proven that prolonged lack of sleep can affect our immune systems.

To help maintain good sleeping habits, try to go to sleep and wake up around the same times each day. Keeping to a routine during this time also helps to minimize stress.

If you are invited to gatherings, limit the number of late nights each week to perhaps no more than one, bearing in mind that social distancing is of paramount importance for those with mesothelioma.

4. Meditation

If times seem stressful, meditation can be a great way to calm the mind and divert some of the “busyness” that can often be going on in our brains.

Meditation can take on different forms, from something as simple as listening to classical music to partaking in a mindful meditation program. Apps such as Headspace provide free sessions that you can try out to see if you enjoy the tranquility that they aim to provide.

For others, though, something as simple as reading poems, holy scripts or praying are ways to calm the mind and reduce the stress that can seem overwhelming.

5. Limit Social Activities

With the current pandemic, limiting exposure to people is highly recommended. With the winter season in full swing, other viruses are at play too, and caution should be taken when out and about.

During the holiday season you may receive invitations to parties and shopping trips as well as dinner out. Some socializing with immediate family may be just what you need, but it’s also perfectly OK to say, “No thank you.”

It may feel like you are being antisocial or rude, but you are in charge of looking after yourself. Limiting activities outside of your home is one of the best ways to keep a healthy immune system.

6. Drink Up

The winter months generally don’t leave us feeling very thirsty, but staying hydrated is extremely important to staying healthy, especially if you are receiving treatment.

Dehydration can cause low energy levels, low blood pressure and a delay in treatment if you get too dehydrated.

Drink plenty of water and other caffeine-free and alcohol-free beverages. Add a splash of lemon or lime or use ginger and turmeric to add some immune-boosting foods to your drink. Sports drinks, sherbet and soups can also be used.

7. Exercise

Being active has always been recommended for maintaining good health because it helps control excess body weight, builds muscle and reduces inflammation.

Most recently, studies have determined that exercise can help strengthen the immune system and provide protection against COVID-19.

Any type of exercise is beneficial, from walking to running to dancing. If you are feeling fatigued, exercise can actually help boost energy levels. Try 10 minutes of walking every day and work your way up to 30 minutes at least five days a week.

Swimming, cycling and strength training are also great ways to get your heart rate going and keep those joints limber. Please consult your physician before beginning any exercise program to ensure safety. If you are feeling sick or running a fever, don’t exercise on those days.

8. Wash Hands Often and Wear a Mask

People with mesothelioma are at increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Because this virus is spread through droplets in the air, wearing a mask when around other people is imperative.

Recommendations include washing hands frequently, especially before eating, before touching your face and after leaving a public place. If you cannot wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

For more information on COVID-19 and other viruses, visit the CDC’s COVID-19 facts page.

9. Food Safety

Holiday parties often involve buffets where food is left out for long periods of time. If your immune system is compromised due to mesothelioma, you need to be particularly careful of certain foods.

Avoid raw or uncooked meat, fish and eggs. Try to eat your meal within 30 minutes of the food being put out and avoid eating food that has been sitting out longer than two hours.

If you are undergoing chemotherapy and your white blood cell counts are low, your medical team will advise you to avoid social interactions until your counts return to normal.

For more information about food safety and other nutrition questions, visit the nutrition section of our website and request a free nutrition guide to mesothelioma.

10. Avoid Alcohol

Current recommendations for general cancer prevention include limiting alcohol intake to no more than two drinks for men and one drink for women per day.

Alcohol reduces our body’s immunity and its ability to fight diseases, so we want to watch how much we drink this holiday season.

If you feel like drinking an alcoholic beverage, limit yourself to the above recommendations. Drink slowly and follow your drink with something non-alcoholic like an unsweetened iced tea or sparkling water.

Just remember, the holidays can be a fun time when everything is enjoyed in moderation.

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