Many people look forward to summer – a little lighter work schedule, less traffic, a long-anticipated trip, longer days, outdoor entertainment. But if you’re experiencing cancer, you may not feel like you get a “summer break.” Chemo treatments, radiation therapy schedules, and monitoring don’t stop between June and August. Adding to the uncertainty is the rise in COVID-19 cases in some locations. Keeping this in mind, you can still enjoy many of your favorite summer activities and make the season special with a little awareness and advance planning.
If you’re typically someone who likes to ride the wave of spontaneity with summer activities, you may want to do yourself a favor and become a planner this year. Cancer tends to derail our day-to-day life, but setting up and maintaining a schedule will help you regain a sense of control over your life, and ultimately, your summer.
Having a backup plan is all the more important during the pandemic. Talk to your doctor about whether a COVID-19 vaccine booster would be recommended, and ask about your risk for severe disease, should you become infected. Know when your upcoming important medical appointments are, and consider planning any travel or larger gatherings for after those key dates so you don’t miss an appointment in case of a positive COVID test.
Limiting direct sun exposure and wearing sunblock are important practices for everyone, but particularly those with cancer. For starters, certain chemotherapy drugs, as well as radiation treatment, can heighten sensitivity to the sun. Even if you aren’t on any treatments that put you at an increased risk for sun damage, there is still the general risk of excess sun exposure, including skin cancer. (Yes, sun exposure prompts your skin to make vitamin D, but there are safer ways to get adequate amounts of it. Ask your doctor about calcium and vitamin D, especially if you are on hormone therapy for prostate cancer.)
Apply sunscreen often and cover up with hats and light full-coverage fabrics.
Let’s be honest, having cancer while dealing with summer heat is downright terrible. If you’re experiencing hot flashes while on hormone therapy, your usual strategies, such as layered clothing, may not be bringing relief. The obvious cheat to this issue is to crank up the A/C, but that may not be a solution for everyone.
Use cotton clothes and bedding as they are more breathable and will keep you cool. Let someone else do the cooking on particularly hot days. It doesn’t hurt that many foods that can be eaten without cooking (vegetables!) are packed with nutrients. Water is also your friend, so be sure to stay hydrated and never underestimate the power of a nice cool shower.
If, despite your cancer, you are still feeling up to a vacation, then more power to you — but consider staying local. We’ve all heard the benefits of staycations: saves money, light packing, low stress, and so on. Particularly for those with cancer, staying local can be a great way to prioritize your health without feeling like you’re sacrificing your quality of life.
Keep the kids busy
Consider enrolling your children (or any grandkids you’re caring for) in camp, sports, or recreational classes for the summer. A cancer diagnosis will often make you want to spend more time with your children, not less, but there are many benefits to keeping your kids a little extra occupied. Before you sign up, ask about COVID precautions the site is taking, and opt for outdoor activities if you want to reduce potential exposure.
Some cancer treatments reduce your energy and strength. So be kind to yourself, and know that it is okay to take a step back and rest — even if it means instead of taking the kids on a hike, you let them tell you all about how great it was when they return with someone else. (You can still be active, but at your own pace.) Furthermore, your cancer diagnosis can be difficult on children, and allowing them an opportunity to let loose and burn off any worry or stress they may be carrying around will be a relief to you both.