Coping With A Cancer Diagnosis

A new or recurrent diagnosis of cancer can have an impact on your life like no other news you have received before. Coping with the emotional and physical effects that a cancer diagnosis can have on your life may be very difficult at times. It can feel overwhelming as a person begins to process the quantity of information - treatment options, news, decisions, suggestions, and opinions - all of which come flooding in. To call this upheaval "stressful" would be a great understatement.

Coping with stress comes easily for some; others have a more difficult time. We are all different and so are the ways we seek and find help. There are no "right" coping strategies - there is only what works for you. Some cancer patients may find the following list helpful:

  • A Method for Effective Coping
  • Confront each problem directly
  • Look at the situation as a problem to be solved
  • Insist on complete information
  • Expect positive change
  • Be flexible; take things as they come
  • Divide major decisions into smaller parts
  • Look for resources to help
  • Create an "action plan"
  • Seek support

Understanding Your Feelings

How should you feel after a diagnosis of cancer? The truth is whatever you're feeling right now is the right way for you to feel. This is your disease. Patients report a variety of feelings initially upon learning of the diagnosis, and those feelings ebb and flow, changing during treatment and beyond therapy.

Stress, fear or grief can all make our feelings seem more intense. Some people just don't feel like "themselves". Others report crying more easily, having a difficult time concentrating, or being more irritable. A decreased appetite, decreased desire to do things, or decreased sexual drive are not uncommon.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal response to stress, but too much anxiety can interfere with daily living. Some signs of anxiety include difficulty thinking or solving problems, increased muscle tension, trembling or shaking, headache, cold hands, rapid breathing, insomnia, decreased or increased appetite.

You might try relieving tension with physical activity like walking or gardening. Take some time to talk to an understanding friend. Getting plenty of sleep and eating a balanced diet can help lesson the physical effects of anxiety. Develop a realistic, positive attitude.

Depression

Some cancer patients experience depression. Feeling sad about your diagnosis is a normal response. Supportive concern from friends and family has shown to help most people through the first feelings of depression. Feeling sad, sleepless, or having a decreased appetite are all signs of depression. People may also experience a loss of energy, fatigue, changes in eating habits, or a decreased interest in doing anything.

Depression becomes a major concern when depression evolves into more desperate feelings, such as helplessness, worthlessness, guilt, loss of self esteem or suicidal thoughts. If you have any of these symptoms or cannot eat or sleep and feel uninterested in daily life for several days, call your doctor. Your doctor may want to investigate medicines or therapies to help manage these symptoms.

Coping Strategies

Coping with one's daily existence can feel more difficult when a person is overly anxious, fearful or depressed. The way a person copes with overwhelming feelings is very individualized. There is no right or wrong way to cope.

  • Relax - Consciously un-tense muscles, breathe slowly and regularly, sit down, lie down or walk around. Other methods of relaxing include taking a warm bath or listening to quiet music.
  • Think - Prioritize your concerns, write them down, and decide if you need to deal with them right now. Remember what you have done in the past to solve a problem. List two or more possible solutions and decide how you will deal with the problem. Write it down.
  • Act - Talk to someone who can help you with the problem, gather information, find support, make a plan, change when you can that is causing the problem. Be flexible, take on one issue at a time, and expect positive change.

Hope

Hope is a vital part of cancer treatment. It is a way to focus one's energy on the most positive outcome and anticipate positive responses. It motivates us to keep going, to believe in any possibility. Hope is empowering - it keeps us looking positively toward the future. Hope allows us to believe in ourselves and rely on something outside of ourselves.

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