Summer Fun and Safety for Cancer Patients
Summer has officially begun! It's a great time to relax and enjoy the beautiful weather with family and friends, but it's important for myeloma patients to be extra vigilant in protecting themselves in a variety of ways.
There are benefits to sun exposure, such as a natural Vitamin D intake and a mood boost, but for every myeloma patient, it is important to protect yourself. The following points are important to remember each day as you head outside to have some fun:
- Limit sun exposure between 10:00 am - 3:00 pm (the sun's rays are the strongest)
- Use sunscreen SPF 30 or higher - Make sure it protects against UV-A and UV-B rays
- Dress for sun protection - wear a hat, bring an umbrella, wear light fabrics and clothes
- Keep any surgical scars covered from the sun
- Don't forget to apply sunscreen to the ears, nose, face, hands, and lip balm to your lips
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes
If you are currently on a chemotherapy regimen, your doctor may advise you to avoid direct exposure to the sun. In an interview with Dr. Maria Theodoulou, M.D., she explained that "many of the chemotherapy agents that are used are also radio-sensitizers, which means the sun's rays work a lot stronger than they would if one were not exposed to any chemotherapy drugs." To help and protect the skin during this time, experts recommend waiting for 1-2 months before exposure to the sun. By that time, the chemotherapy drug has been used by the body and out of the system, making it safer to be outside. Patients should also be conscious of their fluid intake. Dehydration is very common in hot weather, and to avoid future problems, drink as much water (or even sports drink to replenish lost electolytes) as you can. By doing so, you will protect your skin and organs. Overall, every cancer patient should understand that you are more vulnerable to heat-related problems than you were before treatment. Make every effort to stay cool, and understand that the combination of sunlight, heat, and medications may cause photosensitivity reactions to occur quickly. Be prepared, hydrate often, and don't forget to cover up with sunscreen. It's time to enjoy your summer, but please do so safely and wisely!
Gardening is one of the world's most popular hobbies. If you loving the growing season and want to see the fruits of your gardening labor of love, you may need to take extra precautions if you are in active treatment. When patients are neutropenic (a very low range of white blood cells, typically during stem cell transplant), they should avoid gardening completely. Being in a neutropenic state means that patients are more likely to catch infections because there are germs and bacteria that reside in the soil. For patients who are not neutropenic, it is a good idea to always wear gloves that are clean inside.
Swimming can be one of the best recovery exercises post-treatment, particularly for myeloma patients with bone issues. An article called In the Swim describes the physical benefits of cancer patients getting back in the pool.
- You will burn calories and help control your weight.
- Additionally, swimming has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve HDL, the “good” kind of cholesterol, while reducing levels of the “bad” kind, known as LDL.
- The US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five days a week, and resistance training activities at least two days a week. Swimming has an edge on cardio workouts like running because it has built-in strength training benefits, so you’re working several different muscle groups all at once.
- There are many direct physical benefits of swimming that are particularly beneficial to former cancer patients. Some of these include stronger muscles and a healthier heart, both of which may have weakened during cancer diagnosis and treatment; increased appetite, which is especially beneficial for patients who felt too ill to eat during chemotherapy and/or lost a lot of weight; and increased white blood cell production.
- Swimming is the lowest impact form of strength-building and cardiovascular exercise because of the buoyancy of water, meaning your body doesn’t have to support its own weight while you work out.
- This can be good for beginners, especially those who are overweight. The water can also provide the benefit of keeping the swimmer cool during the workout, which can be especially beneficial to someone experiencing side effects like hot flashes from chemo and other cancer treatments.
- Swimming also increases your flexibility due to the range of motions your body experiences as you propel yourself through the water. Flexibility is a key component of the body’s overall strength and a critical factor in helping your body recover from cancer and its treatment, especially if your joints have weakened during chemotherapy.
Myeloma patients with compromised immune systems need to take adequate precautions to protect themselves from water-borne bacteria. According to the Cure Our Children Foundation, swimming in places, such as pools, hot tubs, lakes and rivers may increase infection in chemotherapy patients. Additionally, they recommend completely avoiding public pools. A disinfected private swimming area may provide a safe swimming option . Always check with your doctor who will know what is right for you. For more ideas on summer activity, read Lizzy Smith's archived articles "Summer is Here - Tips For Staying Healthy in the Heat" and "Tips for Staying Sun-Safe During Summer Months."