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The Role of Health and Nutrition

Eating well and remaining physically active are key elements to recovery and getting through treatment.


Healthy nutrition is always important, but becomes even more so with a cancer diagnosis.

Eating well will help keep you strong during your treatment and ease recovery after surgery. Everyone’s experience managing treatment-related side effects varies, but if you find that you are struggling, please speak with your health care team for advice in order to help optimize your recovery.

If you are not experiencing any treatment-related side effects like nausea or vomiting that prevent you from eating, then try to eat a healthy balanced diet with a variety of foods as outlined in the Canada Food Guide. This guide provides advice for developing good eating habits and may reduce the risk of other cancers and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Sometimes, the side effects of treatment may prevent you from eating well for short periods of time leading to unwanted weight loss. If this is a concern, please speak with your health care team for a referral to a Registered Dietician who can work with you in order to meet your calorie goals and maintain or help you gain weight.

In the case of advanced cancer, many people struggle with maintaining their caloric intake because they have little desire to eat or drink. This loss of desire to eat or drink is often a natural part of the cancer process. This can be quite upsetting and lead to emotions such as frustration and sadness. Comfort foods that you may crave that are not necessarily nutritious are okay to indulge in as the focus at this time should be on getting any form of calories and preserving quality of life.

Toward a Healthy Diet

Canada’s Food Guide lists their diet recommendations based on serving size or “weight”, while other guides will describe “portion” sizes. The following are some average servings/portion sizes to consider when planning your meals. It is suggested that your dinner plate should consist of:

½ plate raw or cooked veggies
¼ plate whole grains
¼ plate protein

The following examples might be useful to help you with understanding the average portion size or weight.

Fish, chicken, pork, meat and tofu

1 serving=3 ounces=a deck of cards

Vegetables & Fruit

Vegetables (raw or cooked)
1 serving = 1 cup = a softball


1 serving = 1 apple = a tennis ball

Whole Grains

Pasta and rice cooked

1 serving=1/2 cup=a tennis ball

Bread (whole grain)
1 serving = 25 grams = a piece of bread

Oils & Snacks

Butter and oils (olive, canola, peanut)
1 serving = 1 t
1 tablespoon = 2 scrabble tiles

Low fat milk and yogurt
1 serving = 1 cup

Nuts or seeds
1 serving = ¼ cup = 1 handful


Goes Down Easy: Recipes to Help You Cope With The Challenge of Eating During Cancer Treatment by Elise Mecklinger 


Exercise and physical activity are an important part of health and well-being. In cancer survivors, research has shown that by maintaining some level of exercise during and after treatment helps improve mood and energy levels. During treatment, you may not feel like being active and that is okay. Do what you can, when you can. You don’t need to be a marathon runner; any level of activity is better than none. Most people find that walking is a great exercise to help them during recovery. Walking allows you to go at your own pace, gives you a change of environment, gets you breathing more deeply, and helps your circulation and overall wellbeing. One example for an activity goal might be to go for a 10-30 minute walk every day or every other day. Making it part of your routine also helps you feel empowered knowing that you are helping your own recovery.

There is some early evidence that being more physically active can improve overall survival in breast and colon cancer, but more research is needed to confirm this. There is very little research at present on the link between physical activity and survival in gynecological cancers. However, there is a wealth of research showing gynecological cancer survivors who are physically active report a better quality of life, are less tired and feel they cope better with life situations. Being physically active also lowers your risk of other diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. It also helps control body weight. While ongoing research is needed to understand the role of physical activity in cancer survival, physical activity on its own has many additional health benefits.

Exercise after Surgery

After surgery, gradually increase your activity. Depending on what type of surgery you had, start walking short distances and increase your distance each day. For additional exercises after surgery, ask your surgeon when and how to resume exercising.
If you notice any swelling of your abdomen, groin or legs, STOP exercising and talk to your surgeon. Swelling may be a sign of lymphedema or other health concerns.

Tips to Prepare for Physical Activity

• Check with your physician about what activities are best.
• Consider working with a trainer to develop a plan.
• Check your local community centre or see a physiotherapist.
• Start slowly and progress gradually, building your strength and tolerance over time.
• Do activities that work for you and that you feel safe doing.
• Do a light warm up before and after activity.
• Rest when you feel tired.
• Drink plenty of fluids.

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