A cancer diagnosis comes with a whole host of new challenges and changes, especially for kids and young adults and their families. Fortunately, there are some things that don’t have to change — like your child’s ability to get and stay active.
“A lot of parents want to know, can my child still go to school, play or swim?” says Virginia Borunda, a nurse care coordinator with Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. “More often than not, the answer is, yes!”
“And if not right now, then we’ll get you there,” adds nurse care coordinator Camille Mediavilla. “The goal is to make life as normal as possible.”
Beyond maintaining the routines of normal life, there are a lot of benefits to eating right and staying active — particularly for kids and young adults with cancer.
The benefits of an active lifestyle for kids with cancer
Cancer treatment saves lives, but it’s also hard on bodies — in some ways as hard as the cancer itself. That’s why kids undergoing cancer treatment need all the help they can get to heal and bounce back from the side effects. A healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways families can help that process along.
It’s not always easy. Side effects of cancer treatment can include sleep problems and fatigue, and the intensity of those side effects will go up and down during the course of treatment. Cancer treatment also means big interruptions to family routines, and that can make it difficult to find time to keep active.
“There are times your kid will feel terrible,” Borunda admits, “but that won’t last forever.”
For many families, there’s a fear that participating in normal activities will strain their child and slow the healing process. In reality, the opposite is true. Study after study shows that kids who keep active feel better, physically and mentally, and that’s as true for kids with cancer as it is for kids without.
Tips for staying healthy with cancer
It might sound like a contradiction, but it is possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle with cancer. In fact, for much of the course of treatment, it’s even possible to feel good. Here’s what Mediavilla and Borunda recommend:
Keep kids in their regular activities.
“They might not always be able to participate fully, but we want to see them participating as much as possible,” says Borunda. “If they’re on the swim team, say, that might look like adjusting their practice schedule or missing some meets. But it shouldn’t mean pulling them from the team.”
Get active as a family
Even if kids aren’t in sports, families can stay active together with a little intention. That might look like kicking a soccer ball around in a park or throwing an impromptu household dance party, or even just parking further away from the grocery store.
Eat lots of fruit and vegetables
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can promote everything from increased energy to faster healing, and it helps maintain a healthy weight — which, in cancer survivors, has been shown to correlate with longer, healthier lives.
Have fun as a family.
Coping with cancer is stressful for kids, siblings and parents alike. Even setting aside 5 or 10 minutes every day to take a short walk or read a book can bring families closer together.