Living With Ovarian Cancer

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2021

Living with a condition like ovarian cancer means learning to live with uncertainty, change, and accepting help when you need it. Symptoms, side effects, and worries that your cancer may come back can all impact your quality of life.

With all these challenges, it may take time to figure out the mix of coping skills and methods that work best for you. Here are a few suggestions for how you can manage your condition while still enjoying life.

Managing symptoms and side effects

You may experience many symptoms and side effects from your ovarian cancer or from its treatment. This is especially true if you have advanced cancer.

Some side effects remain after treatment has ended. Some may also be permanent. If you are having side effects, talk with your doctor about what you are experiencing. In most cases, there are ways to reduce or manage side effects. Side effects can impact your quality of life, so it is important to address them with your care team.

Managing emotional challenges

Living with advanced ovarian cancer can be challenging. It is normal to have a range of emotions. You may find yourself stressed, anxious, or depressed. You may also worry about your cancer coming back.1

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Find a support system that can give you tools to regroup and take care of yourself. You may find the support you need from trusted friends, family members, or a clergy person. A mentor or therapist may be a good source of support. There are also in-person and online support groups for people living with ovarian cancer.

If anxiety or depression is impacting your day-to-day life, talk with your doctor. You do not have to deal with your feelings by yourself.

Benefits of palliative care

Palliative care works to improve quality of life in people who have a serious illness or life-threatening condition. It focuses on relieving the symptoms and stress from illness or its treatment. It also addresses the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of the person going through treatment. Palliative care treats the person as a whole, not just their disease.2

Research shows that palliative care works best when it is used as soon as possible after diagnosis. You do not have to be at an end-stage of illness to receive palliative care.2

Palliative care can be used along with cancer treatment, including curative treatment. Palliative care specialists can also help you better understand your treatment choices.2

Nutrition and exercise while living with cancer

Good nutrition and regular physical activity is important at any point in your life. This is especially true for people with ovarian cancer.

Physical activity has been linked to higher quality of life in people with ovarian cancer. It can reduce levels of depression and anxiety. Research shows it may also help:3,4

  • Improve blood flow
  • Reduce nausea
  • Prevent muscle loss
  • Boost self-esteem

Depending on how you are feeling, you may enjoy activities like walking, biking, or dancing. Even a small amount of activity can be good for your health and mood. The goal is to do what you can each day.

Before starting any activities, check with your doctor to make sure they are safe for you. Your doctor may refer you to an occupational or physical therapist. They can help you adapt physical activities to something that is right for you during and after treatment.

Your doctor can also help you get the right nutrition during and after treatment. They can tell you if you have any nutritional goals or if there are foods you should avoid. Many care teams include a dietitian who specializes in working with people with cancer.

Some healthy nutrition tips include:5

  • Eat leafy greens and lots of vegetables
  • Add high-fiber foods and whole grains
  • Limit red meat
  • Choose low-fat dairy products
  • Avoid or limit alcohol

Research shows that vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale may also reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. Ask your doctor if it is safe to add these to your diet.6

Coping with late-stage ovarian cancer

If you have advanced or late-stage ovarian cancer, you might have many feelings about your situation.

You might be faced with many decisions about your day-to-day routine and the future. This can include choices about palliative and/or hospice care, advanced directives, and family issues.

Talk with your treatment team about what to expect with your stage of cancer and medical condition. There are ways to treat symptoms or side effects you may have. Palliative care is available to ensure your quality of life.

Talk with your care team, family, and friends about what you need. There is support to help you with the medical, emotional, financial, and social impacts of your diagnosis. You do not have to go through this alone.