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Your Physical Health

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A brain or spine tumor and treatment can cause physical effects that impact how your body feels and functions. You can take care of your body by exercising, getting quality sleep, eating a healthy diet, and learning how to manage your symptoms. Doing these things will help you physically and also improve your mind and spirit.

Exercise

A brain or spine tumor and treatment side effects can cause changes to body functions, including your movement and balance. If you feel well enough and are able, exercise may reduce symptoms and improve the way you feel. But it’s important to seek the advice of your health care team prior to starting any exercises.

Exercise doesn’t have to be hard. It can be any activity that gets your body moving. It can be mild, moderate, or intense, depending on how you feel or where you are in your cancer journey.

  • Mild exercises: Stretching, standing, arm or leg lifts, and gentle movements.
  • Moderate exercises: Walking, water aerobics, slow biking, dancing, light resistance training, and gardening.
  • Intense exercises: Running, swimming, aerobic dancing, heavy resistance training, and hiking uphill.

Exercise can help reduce fatigue, anxiety, and depression. It can also help improve your sleep. It’s important to listen to your body and understand what it tells you. Your doctor or physical therapist can help you determine what exercise is right for you. Do not exercise alone if you have previously had seizures or have physical limitations that put you at risk for falling or injury.

Exercise Tips

  • Find a physical or occupational therapist who is trained in neurological problems to help you create a weekly exercise plan. Ask them to:
    • Plan exercises that can be done safely at home or nearby.
    • Include gentle stretching in your exercise plan.
  • Start slowly and don’t push yourself too hard. You may not be able to exercise at the same level as you did before your diagnosis. Consider adjusting your exercise schedule in response. You could try:
    • Twenty minutes of mild to moderate exercise three to five times per week.
    • Five to ten minutes of exercise two to three times a day.
  • Try using a fitness app to log your activity.
  • Watch exercise videos from the internet.
  • Find an exercise partner who will help keep you accountable and safe.
  • Set goals and reward yourself.

You may be able to start exercising at any point during your cancer journey, even if you’ve never exercised before. The amount you do, and the intensity should be based on your comfort and what your doctor recommends. You may find it helpful to continue exercises you learned from physical or occupational therapy. Or you may want to find new ones to try.

To live as well as I can with this disease, I find it helpful to be as physically fit and healthy as possible, even if swimming and gentle physical therapy are the only options right now due to partial paralysis and difficulty mobilizing.

Gretel, Ependymoma Survivor

Any amount of exercise or movement every day is better than none. You may start by walking around your room or getting up and down from a chair. You can slowly build on the type and amount of exercise as your health permits. Exercise can help keep you strong and make you feel good.

Resources

Sleep

A brain or spine tumor and treatments can cause sleep disturbance. Sleep is important for physical and mental health and overall quality of life. Lack of adequate sleep can affect your immune system and, if chronic, increase your risk of heart disease, anxiety, and depression. Sleep allows your body to rest, recover, and reset for the next day.

Sleep Tips

  • Stick to a sleep schedule so you go to bed and wake up around the same time every day.
  • Go to bed when you feel sleepy. This will help you fall and stay asleep.
  • Create a bedtime routine that helps you decompress from your day and ease into sleep.
  • Practice relaxation techniques before bed like meditation, breathing exercises, and massage.
  • Do not use electronic devices 20 to 30 minutes before bed.
  • Keep your room dark. Use blackout curtains and cover any bright electronic items.
  • Limit caffeine intake during the day—less than four cups. Avoid caffeinated drinks before bed.
  • Exercise more than three hours before bed to allow time for your body to wind down.
  • Train your body to know that your bed is only for sleeping. Limit activities in bed such as using your phone or laptop or watching TV.
  • If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, try reading a book or getting out of bed and returning when you feel sleepy.

Talk with your doctor or care team if you always have difficulty sleeping or if you’re sleeping more than normal. Being tired more often is a common side effect for any type of cancer treatment. Excessive tiredness, however, needs to be addressed. Your health care team can plan a sleep disorder assessment and provide other therapies or adjustments to your medications.

After my treatments finished, I was often tired, and it took over a year for me to feel like I had all my energy back and to feel completely like myself again.

Jered, Oligodendroglioma Survivor

Resources

Nutrition

Treatment side effects may affect your ability to eat a well-balanced diet. You may have nausea, vomiting, and a decreased appetite. If you’re on steroids to control brain tumor swelling, you may crave unhealthy snacks, gain weight, and have high blood sugar. But a healthy and balanced diet is important. It can give you the key nutrients your body needs to strengthen your immune system, give you energy, and help you stay a healthy weight.

Nutrition Tips

  • Limit processed foods. Processed foods are pre-packaged and contain added sugars and fat.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid sugary drinks.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. (Use this formula to calculate how many ounces you should drink a day.)
  • Eat six small meals throughout the day to keep your metabolism working, stave off hunger, and control your blood sugar.
  • Keep a food log to track your intake of healthy foods.
  • Pack small healthy snacks to avoid eating unhealthy foods when you’re on the go.
  • Prepare meals in bulk on the weekend to have healthy options during a busy week.
  • Allow yourself a weekly or monthly “cheat day.”

Try to follow the diet your doctor recommends. Remember, foods that contain little to no nutrients often contain sugar, fat, and artificial ingredients. You will feel better eating healthy foods, which can affect how you feel throughout the day.

Resources

Symptom Management

  • A brain or spine tumor and treatment can cause a variety of symptoms. Common symptoms are headaches, nausea with or without vomiting, constipation, fatigue, increased sleep, weakness, and difficulty walking and balancing.
  • Brain tumors can also cause seizures and spine tumors can cause pain. You may have other unique symptoms that are based on your tumor size, location, and how fast it grows.

Symptom Management Tips

  • Try to make taking care of yourself a priority, especially when you don’t feel well.
  • Keep a log of any symptoms you experience. Note when and how often they occur and what may make them better or worse.
  • Talk with your doctor about your symptoms.
  • Take any prescribed medicines for your symptoms as directed. Tell your doctor if they help or not.
  • Tell your physical or occupational therapist how you feel during and after your sessions.
  • Ask for help when you need it.

I use a cane to walk since I have numbness in both feet that goes all the way to my buttock on the right leg. I also have a dropped left foot. It is not easy, but I have adjusted my life accordingly. I go by the motto to face my challenges and be grateful for the good things life has given and still gives me.

José, Midline Glioma Tumor Survivor

Talk to your doctor about any new or worsening symptoms you have. There may be medicines or other therapies that can help. Taking care of yourself and your symptoms can go a long way in helping you feel and function at your best.

Resources

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