Month: January 2017

Helping Yourself Cope with Cancer

As we covered in last week’s blog post, feelings of distress, such as depression, hopelessness, anxiety, sadness, uncertainty, and fear are common for cancer patients and caregivers, but all is not lost. While having top-notch support system with your medical team and loved ones is important, there are several things that you can do yourself to improve your ability to cope. A positive way to avoid feeling powerless is to take an active role in dealing with the cancer.

We Like To Move It Move It

Exercise is actually a very beneficial coping tactic. Moderate exercise has been shown to help with anxiety, tiredness, blood vessel and heart fitness, muscle strength, and tiredness. By alleviating some treatment side effects and improving strength, a cancer patient may find it easier to undergo treatment. It’s very difficult to start to exercise when you’re feeling tired, as many people feel after treatment, but that’s why it is even more important. Focus on the fact that exercise increases energy and releases endorphins, both of which will make you feel better. You just have to take that first step. We would be remiss if we did not note, however, that any exercise regimen should be cleared with your oncologist before you begin.

But Wait, There’s More

Additional ways that may help you cope with your illness include:

— Use methods that have helped you get through crises or periods of high-stress in the past, whether it’s talking with a friend or an outlet like painting, meditation, or listening to music.

— Take one day at a time. Don’t worry about the future. Focusing on coping “today” without worrying about how you’ll cope tomorrow makes an illness like cancer easier to manage.

— Always ask questions. Being well-informed is important so you know what you can do for your part. Make sure your doctor lets you ask all your questions and is happy to answer all of them.

— Get spiritual, if so inclined. Many cancer patients find support and strength in belief systems they value, even if they are not particularly spiritual or religious.

— Keep detailed records of doctor information, treatment dates, x-rays, lab values, symptoms, scans, medicines, side effects, and any other information related to the cancer. When you give yourself a responsibility, you have a better feeling of purpose. You can also keep a journal as an emotional outlet.

Do NOT Suffer in Silence

Cancer is not one of those things that you should try to deal with alone. Research shows that cancer patients who have a network of support fare better during treatment and have higher survival rates. There’s nothing embarrassing about asking for help or unloading your worries and fears. There’s nothing wrong with being frustrated about the side effects of treatment. Take a leaf out of Madonna’s book and “Express Yourself.” The worst thing you can do when you have cancer is shut people out.

Navigating The Emotional Side Effects of Cancer

No amount of reading articles or listening to personal experiences can truly prepare a cancer patient for the emotional impact of cancer treatment, but, any and all information that may be offered can benefit, even if just to provide a general roadmap to help patients and caregivers cope with their situations. In this two-part blog series, we’ll be covering the types of emotional side effects of cancer as well as what you, as a cancer patient, can do to take an active role in coping with your illness.

Distress is Normal

When we talk about “distress” here, we are referring to unpleasant feelings such as sadness, fear, hopelessness, anxiety, depression, uncertainty, and powerlessness. Distress is very common and understandable in people with cancer and their loved ones and a certain amount is normal. So much of a cancer patient’s life changes with a cancer diagnosis and but (s)he won’t know how much until it happens. This creates feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and even fear.

“Will I die?”

“What will happen to my kids if I can’t physically take care of them?”

“How long will I have to be under treatment?”

“Am I going to feel sick all the time during treatment?”

After a cancer diagnosis, there’s a bit of a waiting game while a patient’s oncology team determines the best course of treatment and feelings of distress are very common, especially waiting for surgery or that first chemotherapy treatment. Everything about cancer is stressful, including the side effects, such as weight changes, hair loss, fatigue, and disruption to routine, but sometimes it’s a little too much to deal with.

Severe Distress  

While a level of stress and distress is expected, if it interferes with treatment or if a patient can’t cope, additional support services may help. Having cancer affects your emotional health, and when those effects are debilitating, it is imperative that you get additional support. The American Cancer Society offers a helpful “Do I Need Professional Support” Self-Assessment Questionnaire for Patients to help you figure out whether professional counseling may be beneficial. You can find the questionnaire here: http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/emotional-side-effects/distress-checklist-for-patients.html

Additionally, having a trusted cancer care team can be a significant resource for extra support, as is having loved ones that can also take on a support role. As a cancer patient, it is important to remember that you have people that care about you and want to help, but you must always be upfront with how you’re feeling and doing. Once people know how you’re doing, they can provide you with or direct you to the services most suited to your particular circumstances.

Please come back next week for part two of our blog series, where we will be discussing ways you, as a cancer patient (or caregiver) can cope with cancer.

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