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Living Well With Ovarian Cancer

Medically reviewed by Howard Goodman, M.D.
Written by Emily Wagner, M.S.
Updated on April 6, 2021

Receiving an ovarian cancer diagnosis can be scary and overwhelming, especially during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. You may have questions and concerns about treatment, appointments, and how to best take care of yourself. Fortunately, there are people and resources available to help you navigate these unknowns and to offer advice on living well with ovarian cancer.

Lifestyle Actions To Support Your Health

Cancer treatment is an intensive process, so it is important to take care of your body with proper diet and exercise. Eating well and moving your body will help you regain your energy and strength, rebuild tissue, and feel better overall.

Exercise

Exercise has been shown to improve mood and help manage stress. Before you begin exercising, be sure to talk with your doctor to make sure it is appropriate for you. These exercises do not need to be intense. In fact, it may be best to pick a small activity that you haven’t been able to do since your diagnosis. Something as simple as taking a brisk walk with the dog can lessen your stress. If it helps, schedule activities with friends or put them on your calendar so you are more likely to do them.

Cancer care teams recommend regular physical activity for people undergoing treatment. Regular exercise can help:

  • Lower your risk of heart disease
  • Lessen your risk of developing osteoporosis, which can be caused by oophorectomy or radiation treatment of the ovaries
  • Prevent muscle wasting due to inactivity
  • Improve your self-esteem
  • Diminish the risk of developing anxiety or depression
  • Prevent fatigue
  • Control your weight
  • Improve your overall quality of life

Balanced Diet

A healthy diet is also important when it comes to your health. The American Cancer Society offers these tips for healthy eating after cancer treatment:

  • Consult a dietician to help you create a well-balanced eating plan.
  • Try to eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables each day. These provide a number of important vitamins and nutrients your body needs to heal.
  • Avoid or limit red meat and processed meats in your diet, such as beef, pork, lamb, and bacon.
  • Eat high-fiber foods, like brown rice, whole-grain bread, and cereals.
  • Choose low-fat dairy products.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day.

Ovarian Cancer Stress

Stress related to a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment is a common experience. It is important to find ways to manage your stress so it does not further affect your quality of life. Coping mechanisms you have used to deal with stress in the past may not work as well in the face of a serious illness like ovarian cancer, but there are strategies and resources that can help.

Some women have found that talking to a friend or family member helps to allay some of their stress. In addition, many women have found comfort by joining an ovarian cancer support group and connecting with other women who are facing the same diagnosis. You can connect with others online on MyOvarianCancerTeam. The American Cancer Society and the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition also have resources for support groups, local chapter organizations, and more.

The Importance of Managing Stress

While undergoing ovarian cancer treatment, make sure you take care of your mental health and well-being. Many people with cancer find psychotherapy beneficial. Speaking with a professional about your feelings, emotions, and thoughts can help you see things from a different perspective. A therapist can also give you tools for dealing with stress and anxiety related to your diagnosis and treatment.

Women with ovarian cancer may experience mental distress serious enough to require treatment. This is especially true for women who have previously experienced depression or anxiety. Contact your doctor or a mental health professional if you begin experiencing symptoms of depression, such as a lack of enjoyment of activities you usually like, excessive crying, or feeling worthless, depressed, or sad most days for two weeks or more.

Strategies for Managing Stress

In addition to physical activity, relaxation exercises may also help relieve stress and anxiety, while improving your mood. These exercises generally use deep breathing in combination with guided imagery (imagining pleasant scenes) or progressive muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing muscles). There are a wide variety of resources available to help you learn and practice relaxation exercises, including books, online videos, and apps for your phone.

Managing Appointments and Treatments

After a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, it will be important to have a supportive team that includes a gynecologic oncologist, clinicians, and other health care professionals. They will oversee your appointments and treatments and ensure you get the care you need.

Staying on Top of Appointments

When it comes to treatment and preparing a schedule, communication with your health care team is key. If you prefer certain days or times for your appointments, inform your team so they can accommodate your needs. Your team is also there to answer any questions or address any concerns you may have about treatment and what to expect. Keep a calendar with all the dates and times of your appointments or set reminders in your phone’s calendar. This will help you stay organized and keep all information in one place.

Communicating With Your Doctor

To get the most out of your appointments and treatments, be sure to plan in advance. Often, doctors are on a tight schedule and have limited time to spend with each person. Here are some tips for making the most effective use of your appointments.

  • Write down your questions before the appointment. This will help you organize your thoughts and remember everything you want to talk about.
  • Ask your most pressing questions first so you can ensure you get the most important issues addressed.
  • Bring along a friend or family member to help take notes and speak with you after the appointment. Having another set of ears in the examination room can help if you cannot focus or remember all of the information you discuss with your doctor. If visitors are not permitted to come with you during the COVID-19 pandemic, your doctor may allow your friend to join your appointment on speakerphone.
  • If your doctor’s explanations use heavy medical terminology or you do not understand them, ask them to rephrase in clearer terms.
  • Advocate for yourself and your health when you are at your appointments. During this time, the doctor is dedicated to you and answering your questions.
  • Keep track of your day-to-day health and habits so you can tell your doctor about any changes at your next appointment.

The American Cancer Society has a number of tools to help you monitor your treatment and symptoms, such as printable PDFs you can fill out and bring to your appointments to discuss with your doctors. These can be extremely helpful in tracking your day-to-day symptoms, side effects, and pain so your team can best help you manage them. There are worksheets for:

  • Tracking chemotherapy and radiation side effects
  • Pain diaries
  • Lists of medications, vitamins, and supplements

With an ovarian cancer diagnosis, it is imperative to take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Remember, you are not doing this alone, and support is available if you seek it. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, visit MyOvarianCancerTeam.

Updated on April 6, 2021
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Howard Goodman, M.D. is certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and specializes in the surgical management of women with gynecologic cancer. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.. Learn more about him here
Emily Wagner, M.S. holds a Master of Science in biomedical sciences with a focus in pharmacology. She is passionate about immunology, cancer biology, and molecular biology. Learn more about her here

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