Coping with Cancer
Get the facts about your diagnosis
Try to obtain as much basic, useful information as possible about your cancer diagnosis. Write down your questions and concerns beforehand and bring them with you.
Because this is a stressful time that may make it difficult for you to concentrate, if possible, bring a family member or friend with you to your first few doctor appointments to write down the information you receive.
Below are a list of questions that may be helpful to have on hand when visiting your doctor. What kind of cancer do I have?
- Where is the cancer located and what is the size of my tumor?
- Has it spread?
- Is it slow-growing or aggressive?
- Can my cancer be treated?
- What are my treatment options?
- What are the success rates for the treatment options?
- What can I expect during treatment?
- What are the side effects of the treatment?
- When should I expect to start treatment?
Keep the lines of communication open
Maintain honest, two-way communication with your loved ones, doctors, and others after your cancer diagnosis. This may not always be easy to do; however, the emotional support that family and close friends can provide is important in helping you cope.
Anticipate possible physical changes
Now—after your cancer diagnosis and before you begin treatment—is the best time to plan for any physical changes you may experience. Prepare yourself now so that you’ll be better able to cope later. Some suggestions for you to consider:
- Ask your doctor to tell you what changes you should anticipate.
- Contact organizations, like the American Cancer Society that, provide cancer patients with a wig and prosthesis at no cost. You may also want to contact your insurance provider to determine if you have coverage for any other adaptive device you may need.
- If the drugs you will be given will likely cause physical changes, get advice from hair and makeup experts on what you can do to feel more comfortable and attractive. Contact the American Cancer Society for information about their Look Good, Feel Better program designed for women facing hair loss and changes in skin tone due to cancer treatment.
- Participate in a cancer support group. You may find this experience to be particularly helpful as group members can provide you with information, support, and helpful tips.
- Keep in mind that your memory function and energy level will fluctuate due to your treatment and medications. Let those around you know when you need help.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Examine how you are living your life and consider changes in the way you eat, sleep, and exercise so that you can maintain a healthy lifestyle. Consider these suggestions:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet based on a variety of foods
- Getting adequate rest may help you combat the stress and fatigue of cancer treatment
- Participate in enjoyable activities that provide regular exercise. Recent studies suggest that people who maintain some physical exercise during treatment not only respond better to treatment, but may also live longer.
Let friends, family, and others help
Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help. However, cancer can be an experience that consumes your life which leaves little time for everything else. Don’t resist the offer of help when you feel you can use it. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help, it’s an indication that you’re human.
Consider the following suggestions:
- Get friends and family to run errands, prepare meals, and help you with daily household chores.
- For safety’s sake, when you’re not feeling your best, ask for assistance driving to and from your medical appointments.
- Participation in a cancer support group can help you learn from others.
- Seek help from a mental health professional if you are having difficulty expressing your feelings or simply coping with cancer.
As hard as it might be, learn to accept help. Accepting help from others gives them a sense of contributing to your care. Also, encourage your family to accept help if it’s needed. A cancer diagnosis affects the entire family and adds stress, especially to the primary caregivers. Accepting help with meals or chores from friends and neighbors can go a long way to limiting caregiver burnout.
Review your goals and priorities
For many people, a diagnosis of cancer is a life-changing experience that causes them to look at their life and reassess what is important. You may view cancer in a similar way and begin reviewing your personal goals and priorities. Some things you may want to consider:
- Make an effort to eliminate or reduce undesirable activities.
- Use cancer as an opportunity to become closer to loved ones by sharing your thoughts and feelings with them.
- Cancer affects all of your relationships so make an effort to stay in contact with people you care about. Communication with others can help reduce the anxiety and fear that cancer can bring.
Make an effort to maintain your normal lifestyle
Cancer can affect every aspect of your life; therefore, it’s important to try to keep your lifestyle as normal as possible. Because cancer can be life-changing, remain open to change should it become necessary. Some things to consider regarding the affects cancer can have on you and your lifestyle:
- Just be yourself and continue to do the things you enjoy doing.
- If you are employed, continue to work if you are physically able.
- Stay in the present—take each day one at a time
- Allow yourself private time apart from your family and friends to do something that’s important to you, or simply do nothing.
Take care of your spiritual health
The human spirit is connected to mind and body. Research has shown that spiritual health plays an important role in the healing process, particularly when serious illness is involved. It’s important to be aware of the impact your diagnosis has had on your spirituality. There are things for you to consider regarding your spiritual health:
- If appropriate for you, nourish your spirit through prayer. The guidance from a religious leader can help.
- Regularly schedule time for relaxation. Some popular techniques to help you relax are deep breathing exercises, guided visualization, and meditation.
- Read inspiring/uplifting books.
- Consider ‘complementary’ therapies such as massage, aromatherapy, acupuncture, or yoga to help relieve stress and other symptoms.
- Engage in activities, like painting, drawing, or listening to music that can bring about serenity.
- If you have a significant person in your life, nourish your relationship by selecting romantic movies to watch.
- Make time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, such as taking a warm bath, reading a book or magazine, or getting a foot massage.
Develop your own coping strategy
Just as every person’s cancer treatment is individualized, so are coping strategies. What comforted you through difficult times before cancer is likely to help ease your worries now. Whether it’s a close friend, religious leader, or a favorite activity to distract you, turn to these comforts now, but remain open to trying new ways of coping to help you navigate your cancer experience. Ideas for you to consider:
- Keep a personal journal by writing down your thoughts and feelings.
- When faced with a difficult decision, list the pros and cons for each choice.
- Set aside time to be alone.
- Keep a calendar and a log of activities and appointments to help you stay organized.
Don’t forget to laugh
Maintaining a serious disposition throughout your cancer experience can be stressful; however, things will happen along the way that you may find humorous. Remember, it’s okay to laugh. Despite the fact that cancer is serious business, life does go on and having a good laugh at times can relieve stress, while helping you to maintain a positive outlook on life. Try to find something to laugh about each day. Humor is healthy for your body and good for your soul.
Adopt a fighting spirit
Research has demonstrated that the people who cope best and have the most favorable results tend to adopt a ‘fighting spirit’ throughout their cancer treatment. They approach the challenge that cancer presents by saying to themselves, “I’m going to do as much as I can to fight my cancer.” You might also hear them say, “I’m going to learn everything I can about my cancer, so that I can work with my doctor to fight this,” or “I’m going to enjoy as many of my normal activities as I can while fighting cancer.”
Positive thoughts and actions can help you cope with cancer treatment and give you extra energy to carry on, even when it’s hard to do.