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. A diagnosis of cancer and the schedules associated with your treatments may require a commitment to flexibility to allow room in your life to focus on your health and remove sources of stress.

“After a month I realised all these things [a clean house and total order] did not matter. It’s the people inside these walls that mattered.” Silei

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, Eating Well/Kia Pai te Kai, gives useful advice and recipes. Phone the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237) for a copy or download it from our website. The hospital will also have a dietitian who can help.

Food safety is of special concern to cancer patients, especially during treatment, as you might be more at risk of an infection. To make food as safe as possible it is recommended that patients follow these guidelines:

  • Wash hands thoroughly before eating and after using the bathroom.
  • Keep all the surfaces and utensils you use to cook with clean.
  • Wash your hands before preparing food and wash fruit and vegetables.
  • Handle raw meat, fish, poultry, and eggs with care and clean thoroughly any surfaces that have been in contact with these foods.
  • Keep raw meats separate from cooked food.
  • Cook meat, poultry, and fish thoroughly and use pasteurised milk and juices.
  • Refrigerate food promptly to minimise bacterial growth.
  • When eating in restaurants avoid foods that are more at risk of bacterial contamination, such as sushi and raw or undercooked meats, fish, poultry, and eggs, and food from salad bars.
  • If there is any concern about the purity of your water, for example, if you have well water, have it checked for bacterial content.

“Nutrition wise I changed from week to week. I got to the stage when I didn’t like beef anymore. I got into vegetables. I was into wholesome food. Now my cupboards don’t have any processed food.” Silei


Many people find regular exercise helps. Research has indicated that people who remain active cope better with their treatment. It is important to find an exercise that suits you. Ask your treatment team for suggestions.

Relaxation techniques

Some people find relaxation or meditation helps them to feel better. The social worker, nurse, or local Cancer Society will know what is available in your area.

Complementary and alternative therapies

Complementary therapy is a term used to describe any treatment or therapy that is not part of the conventional treatment of a disease. It includes things like:

  • acupuncture
  • relaxation therapy/meditation
  • yoga
  • positive imagery
  • spiritual healing/cultural healing
  • art
  • aromatherapy/massage.

Complementary methods are not given to cure disease, but they might help control symptoms and improve wellbeing.

“When it was painful I transported myself to the market at home with fresh fruit. I went to songs that have no words that reminded me of home, like streams and natural sounds. I imagined myself at moments throughout my lifetime — special places on the beach, certain things we did as children. I took myself there.” Silei

Alternative therapy is a term used to describe any treatment or therapy not offered by your doctors. It includes things like:

  • homeopathy
  • naturopathy
  • Chinese herbs.

Alternative treatments are sometimes promoted as cancer cures. However, they are often unproven, as they might not have been scientifically tested, or, if tested, found to be ineffective.

It is important to let your doctor know if you are using any complementary or alternative therapies. Some treatments might be harmful if they are taken at the same time as conventional treatments; for example, antioxidants, such as high dose vitamin C or other antioxidants.