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

1Step 1: Recognising the realities
  • 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.
2Step 2: Taking control of your treatment
Become an active member of the treatment team, engaging from the start with your oncologist about treatment decisions and the management of your cancer. Dr. Harold Benjamin, founder of The Wellness Community in the United States says, “people with cancer who participate in their fight against cancer will improve the quality of their life and may enhance the possibility of their recovery”. So how do you do partake in your cancer care and treatment?
  • 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.
Your cancer treatment is one part of your strategy to deal with your cancer. Developing a holistic action plan to help you manage your experience is crucial. Spend some time writing it down. Set small, achievable goals in all areas of your life. Some things to consider may be: Conserving your energy by:
  • 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.
Managing hair loss:
  • 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.
Address pain immediately:
  • 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
Dietary needs:
  • 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.
Other aspects of cancer management could include:
  • 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.
Taking a proactive approach to your treatment empowers you, and moves you away from being a victim towards becoming a survivor.
3Step 3: Be informed
Here are some questions you may want to ask your oncologist:
  • 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.
Bring a friend or family member along with you to appointments. They are welcome to join the discussion to help increase your and their understanding of your treatment.
4Step 4: Monitoring your emotions
Dealing with cancer can be very emotionally taxing. Uncertainty, chemical changes in your body and the anxiety associated with your treatment will have you navigating many different emotions. In time, you will come to recognise when your emotional wellbeing is at risk. Your emotional wellbeing is an essential part of managing your diagnosis and taking a holistic approach to cancer care. Symptoms to look out for:
  • 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:
  • 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.
How to handle emotional distress:
  • 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!
5Step 5: The impact of cancer on your family
  • 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.
6Step 6: Tips for couples
  • 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.
  Sexuality and cancer: Living with cancer can affect your sexuality since cancer and its treatments impacts your hormones, body image, energy levels and emotions. Often this can influence your sexual functioning and drive. It is of the utmost importance that you discuss these issues with your oncologist or social worker, as this can strain a relationship. Communication is key.
7Step 7: Helping children when a family member has cancer
There is no way to guard your children against your cancer diagnosis. Including children in the management of your cancer will allow them to be guided towards accurate, healthy and hopeful interpretations of the disease, while helping them to develop adaptive coping skills.   What to tell young children:
  • 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.
8Step 8: Tips on caring for your teenager
  • 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.
9Step 9: Ways for family and friends to help
  • 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.
10Step 10: Treasure your time
After a cancer diagnosis, many patients treasure the time they have far more than before, and you are encouraged to make the most of it. With our holistic approach to cancer treatment, we aim to make you as comfortable as possible no matter how your journey goes.

 

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.

 

Ways to Learn More:

Cancer Association of South Africa

Tel (012) 840 1573

Cancer Information Service

Online: www.cancer.gov

American Cancer  Society

Online: www.cancer.org

CancerCare, Inc.

E-mail: info@cancercare.org

Online: www.cancercare.org

fertileHOPE

Online: www.fertilehope.org

 

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.

1Which cancers are caused by smoking?
Smoking causes more than four in five cases of lung cancer. Lung cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers, and is the most common cause of cancer death in the UK. The good news is that most of these deaths are preventable, by giving up smoking in time. Smoking also increases the risk of over a dozen other cancers including cancers of the mouth, larynx (voice box), pharynx (upper throat), nose and sinuses, oesophagus (food pipe), liver, pancreas, stomach, kidney, bladder, cervix and bowel, as well as one type of ovarian cancer and some types of leukaemia. There is also some evidence that smoking could increase the risk of breast cancer.
2Not all smokers get cancer. Why?
You may know someone who smoked all their lives but lived to a ripe old age. Or you may know someone who never smoked but got cancer anyway. Does this mean that smoking doesn’t really cause cancer? Not at all. Years of research have proven that smoking causes cancer. But this doesn’t mean that all smokers will definitely get cancer or that all non-smokers won’t. It means that smoking greatly increases the risk of this disease. Smokers are, on average, much more likely to get cancer than non-smokers. In a similar way, we can say that eating sugary foods is a cause of tooth decay. This doesn’t mean that all children who eat sugary foods will end up with decayed teeth. It means that, on average, children who eat lots of sugary foods are more likely to develop tooth decay than those who avoid such foods. The fact is that half of all smokers eventually die from cancer, or other smoking-related illnesses. And a quarter of smokers die in middle age, between 35 and 69.
3How does smoking cause cancer?
Tobacco smoke contains more than 70 different cancer-causing substances. When you inhale smoke, these chemicals enter your lungs and spread around the rest of your body. Scientists have shown that these chemicals can damage DNA and change important genes. This causes cancer by making your cells grow and multiply out of control.
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