Coping with Cancer
Once you receive a diagnosis of cancer, life changes. You may experience a complex range of emotions, including fear, anger and disbelief. It is difficult to know how to even begin to process the news, but although you are about to embark upon a difficult journey, drawing strength from the support of loved ones, friends and trusted medical professionals makes the road a little easier. Remember: you are strong and resilient, and you are not alone. A cancer diagnosis is an overwhelming prospect to face, but let’s walk it together, step by step.
Steps to Coping with Cancer
- Take as much time as you need to process the news. Take it slowly.
- When you feel ready, tell your family and friends.
- Pay attention to how you are feeling. Identify your emotions and acknowledge what kind of effect they have on you.
- Prepare to engage with the medical world. Ask questions and discuss your diagnosis with your doctor at length.
- Get professionals to help you.
- Tend to your spirit. Seek counselling to help you navigate the complex emotions you may be feeling.
- Work towards acceptance. Life is never the same after cancer, and working towards accepting this is an active process.
- Be well informed - gain information from your doctor about your diagnosis, treatment plan and the side effects of the drugs.
- Keep track of all your medical care and emotional experiences in a file or journal so that you have all your information together and can see your progress.
- Develop a specific plan to deal with the physical and emotional side effects that you might experience. Write it down.
- Remember, your experience is unique and your body will react to your treatment differently to others. The side effects described on this site are general, and your experience could be different.
- Create a strong support system. Express your needs.
- Spend time doing things you love. Plan some fun-filled events.
- Surround yourself with the people you choose to be part of your team.
- Negativity has no place in this fight. Do not listen to negative cancer stories and avoid people who are negative, or make you feel negative.
- Asking others to help you and delegating tasks.
- Taking short naps.
- Planning activities with realistic goals.
- Walking daily or developing an exercise routine.
- Limiting caffeine, especially in the evening.
- Drinking water - at least 4 to 5 glasses per day.
- Eating a well-balanced diet.
- Consult your hair stylist or visit a wig shop.
- Consider a short haircut before hair loss begins.
- Get hats, scarves or turbans. Be creative!
- Protect yourself from exposure to the sun and cold.
- Pain affects quality of life and dampens hope. It can also impact relationships.
- Remember, pain does not mean advanced disease.
- Addiction to pain medication is rare in people with cancer.
- Speak to your doctor about any pain you may experience
- Good nutrition can assist your body during treatment, so it is important to take control of your nutritional needs.
- Consult a dietician and get sound advice. Do not buy expensive supplements. You need to create a sustainable diet. Decide what you are comfortable including in your diet, making sure it is nutritious.
- You may need to adjust your portion sizes depending on your appetite, but it is vital to ensure you are nurturing your body throughout treatment.
- Increase your fluid (water) intake during treatment. Water enables your body to discard damaged cells and assists in the rebuilding of healthy cells.
- An exercise plan.
- A spiritual plan.
- A plan for dealing with your emotions creatively.
- A plan for regular fun family activities.
- A plan to achieve your personal goals.
- Where is my malignant tumour and what kind of cancer do/did I have?
- Has it spread? If so, where?
- How aggressively is my cancer growing?
- What symptoms will my cancer cause?
- Is there any room for doubt regarding the test results and diagnosis?
- If I seek a second opinion, can I take copies of my test results and x-rays?
- Are any other tests required? If so, what would they be diagnosing? Will further tests hurt?
- What symptoms are likely to occur if my cancer progresses?
- What are my treatment options?
- What treatment do you recommend and why?
- How often is the treatment necessary?
- What are the benefits versus the risks of the treatment?
- Is the treatment aimed at a cure, remission (control) or response?
- What are the likely side effects of treatment?
- How can these be minimised?
- How much will the treatment cost?
- What should I do/not do while having treatment?
- How long will it be before I know if the treatment is working?
- How severe will the pain be and how can I manage my pain?
- What are the long-term side-effects of treatment/medication?
- Is there a possibility of my cancer metastasizing or getting a second cancer?
- Who will be in charge of my treatment?
- What can I read on this topic? Are they any resources you can recommend?
- Ask questions about medical terminology and its meaning.
- Write down your questions before you see your doctor. Go to your consultation prepared.
- Feeling hopeless.
- Sleep disturbance for more than two weeks. This entails both sleeping too much or too little.
- Gaining/losing more than a few kilograms without reason.
- Racing thoughts that you cannot slow down.
- Preferring to be alone rather than with friends or family.
- Being overly sensitive to criticism.
- Feeling more irritable than usual.
- Feeling disconnected.
- Not wanting to get out of bed.
- Not doing things for fun.
- No longer laughing when you used to be joyful.
- Worrying all the time.
- Feeling as if no one would miss you if you were dead.
- Not see things getting any better in the future.
- Emotional distress is often ignored. Do not ignore it. Emotional distress can include anxiety, stress, depressions, mood swings, irritability, insomnia, fear, isolation, denial and loss of hope, and it can be signaled by the symptoms listed above.
- Speak to a therapist. They can assist you in developing an action plan to manage the way you feel during treatment. Tending to your emotional state is an important part of your journey.
- Choose people you can share your feelings with and with whom you feel safe.
- Reach out to your loved ones. Do not isolate yourself.
- Remember, tears have healing power, so make space for sadness but also plan for fun!
- You are not alone in your diagnosis; it also affects your family and loved ones. It is important to talk about your feelings, roles, needs and expectations during this period.
- Remember that the issues that are important will differ from family to family. Depending on your life stage, family and whether you have children you will have to approach your cancer differently.
- Families with young children will have issues and needs that a family with adolescents or a retired couple may not have.
- It is important to note that existing marital or parenting problems may be aggravated by the added pressure of your illness.
- Consider contacting an oncology social worker if you experience problems – it is important to alleviate the emotional pressure on you as you deal with your diagnosis.
- Open and honest sharing is key to navigating this experience.
- Do not try to protect each other - share the good and the bad.
- The supporting partner needs to realise he/she cannot fix this.
- Keep talking, although at times it may be difficult.
- It is okay to cry together.
- Allow each other alone time.
- Each person's reaction to cancer is unique - there is no right or wrong.
- Clarify expectations and set short- and long-term goals together.
- Try to tell your children the news yourself. Children know when something serious if going on, even if nobody tells them.
- Keep in mind the age and past experiences of each child - KEEP IT SIMPLE.
- Tell each child enough to deal with his/her world and to satisfy his/her need for information.
- Expect to review the same information over and over.
- Use the word "cancer".
- Teach them that cancer is not contagious.
- Prepare them for the expected changes in a life-enhancing way.
- Help them to adjust to changes. Find a healthy balance between maintaining routines and making necessary expectations.
- Empower your children to contribute to your comfort in a way that is appropriate for their age.
- Continue to keep all teachers and coaches up to date regarding your condition and how you would like your children handled.
- If you are unsure whether your children are coping, seek help from a professional.
- Teenagers can be unpredictable. Recognise the variety of responses that teenagers may have. They may be uncomfortable with some of their feelings and thoughts about your cancer.
- Teenagers want detailed information regarding your diagnosis and treatment. They may seek further information on their own.
- Teenagers need to know the truth and may feel particularly sensitive to information they feel is incomplete or inaccurate.
- Teenagers need privacy. They may not want to talk about the experience, but ensure they know there are people available when they are ready to talk.
- Encourage your teenager to find creative ways to process their feelings and energy, such as athletics, writing in a journal or partaking in other creative activities.
- Teenagers who want to contribute to caregiving should be allowed to participate in tasks that respect the fact that they are not yet adults but no longer children.
- Encourage your teenager if he or she wants to accompany you to treatment. This can help them feel more in control about how your medical care is provided.
- Teenagers need consistency. Ensure that they still attend normal activities and social events.
- Teenagers are often self-conscious. To help your teenagers understand that there are other people going through similar experiences, you might suggest that they participate in a support group, peer-to-peer network or online chat room.
- Acknowledge that the patient has cancer, do not ignore it in conversations.
- Give them time to accept the diagnosis.
- Talk about it. Share your feelings on how cancer is affecting you both. Listen and acknowledge each other's feelings.
- Be sensitive to the patient's feelings and thoughts.
- Encourage the family to seek emotional help when needed.
- Be natural. The person you see is the same person they were before they got cancer - do not treat them any differently.
- Maintain regular contact with the patient and the family.
- Share success stories about people beating cancer. Do not share cancer horror stories or other people's bad experiences - THEY DO NOT WANT TO HEAR THEM.
- Focus on encouragement and hope - no pity allowed.
- Assistance is very helpful. You can help by offering things such as childcare, assisting with transport or cooking a meal.
- Continue to celebrate important days. Do not forget birthdays, anniversaries and other significant milestones such as the completion of chemotherapy.
Resources and Links
For any information on cancer and resources available in your community, contact the oncology social worker.
The suggested sites will provide some general understanding of a diagnosis and treatment options. It's still best to liaise with your oncologist regarding your specific diagnosis and prognosis.
Recommended Internet Sites:
Ways to Learn More:
Cancer Association of South Africa
Tel (012) 840 1573
Cancer Information Service
American Cancer Society
Smoking and Cancer
The links between smoking and cancer are now very clear. Years of research indicate that smoking is by far the most important preventable cause of cancer in the world. Smoking accounts for one in four UK cancer deaths, and nearly a fith of all cancer cases.
In the UK, smoking kills five times more people that road accidents, overdoses, murder, suicide and HIV all put together.
Thanks to research, health campaigns and new policies, the number of smokers are declining.
If you are a smoker, giving up smoking is the best present you can give yourself and your loved ones. There are many techniques you can try to help you in joining the increasing numbers of smokers who are quitting for good.
For those who are skeptical regarding the risk of cancer and smoking, the following article from www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-info/healthyliving will be interesting reading.