10 Tips for Coping with Cancer

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In your journey with cancer, it is possible for you to encounter challenges that may appear to be the biggest you have encountered thus far. Different people may have different responses to these challenges and all these are natural reactions.

We hope to help you as you journey towards treatment and rehabilitation. Here are some suggestions to manage and cope with cancer.

1. Obtain Accurate Information

Obtaining factual knowledge will ease the tensions caused by conjectures and fear arising from the unknown or inaccurate information.

Despite the possible disorientation in the initial diagnosis stage, try to gather as much practical and relevant information as possible about your cancer diagnosis. It may be helpful to be accompanied by a trusted friend or family member during the first few consultations with your doctor as they can help you process the information communicated. Write down your questions and concerns beforehand and bring them with you. The following are some questions you may like to ask:

  • What kind of cancer do I have?
  • Which part of my body is affected by the cancer?
  • Has it spread?
  • How can my cancer be treated?
  • What other tests or procedures do I need?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What are my treatment outcomes?
  • What can I expect during treatment?
  • What are the side effects of the treatment?
  • When should I call the doctor?
  • What can I do to prevent my cancer from recurring?
  • Is the cancer genetic – what is the likelihood of cancer for my family/ members/children?

2. Maintain Open Communication

Be committed to open dialogue with your loved ones, doctors and caregivers after your cancer diagnosis.

If people try to shield you from bad news or if you try to put up a brave front, you may feel particularly alone and disconnected. By permitting an honest expression of emotions, you and your loved ones are given the freedom to be vulnerable and receive support from each other.

3. Allow your Loved Ones to Help

Be open to receiving love and practical assistance from your friends and family. They can help with household chores, running errands, ferrying you to and from appointments and preparing meals. In accepting their help, they feel empowered to contribute to your well-being during a difficult time, fostering a sense of mutual support and solidarity.

You may also encourage your family to accept practical assistance, such as engaging friends to chauffeur or babysit your children.

A cancer diagnosis affects the entire family and adds stress, especially to the primary caregivers; accepting the help from others, goes a long way in preventing caregiver burnout.

4. Talk to Other People with Cancer

It may appear to you that people who have not experienced cancer will never truly understand the magnitude of your feelings.

Many patients find talking to fellow cancer patients or survivors, helpful and inspiring. These conversations may provide an insight into what you can expect during treatment and allow you to also empathize with another person.

You may approach a friend or family member who had cancer or you can connect with other cancer survivors through support groups. Do find out about our support programs by clicking here.

5. Re-evaluate your Life Goals

A cancer diagnosis might lead one to contemplate the meaning of life. It is an opportune time to reflect upon what and whom you truly value in your life.

Make time to engage in activities, which gives you joy and fulfilment. These activities need not be ambitious; some find joy in playing the piano, listening to music or painting. Others find solace in prayer, reading spiritual books or writing an autobiography. Allow yourself to develop a new openness with loved ones - share your thoughts and feelings with them and invite them to do likewise. Open dialogue can reduce the anxiety and fear caused by cancer. If need be, you may speak to a counsellor or therapist to facilitate these dialogues.

6. Prepare for possible Physical Changes

Now — after the cancer diagnosis and before you begin treatment — is the ideal time to prepare for your impending physical changes. Speak with your doctor about the changes you should anticipate.

For example, if hair loss is a known side effect, do attend practical workshops such as “Look Good, Feel Better” [click here for more information], where experts provide advice on wigs, hairpieces, skin-care, make-up and dressing. There are also support groups and websites where information, support and even wig banks are readily available.

7. Work on Maintaining your Normal Lifestyle

When faced with uncertainty, planning a significant lifestyle change may seem overwhelming; thus, you are encouraged to take small steps. Seek to maintain your normal lifestyle as much as possible, slowly modifying your routine as necessary. It helps to be gentle and patient with yourself and your care-givers; adopt a new philosophy of being in the moment and taking one day at a time.

8. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

Healthy eating and embarking on a light exercise regime can help improve energy levels. You may speak to a dietician or plan a healthy diet consisting of fresh/organic food, avoiding artificial flavours and preservatives.

Taking after-dinner strolls, engaging in stretching exercises and getting adequate rest may help you manage your fatigue. Recent research has supported the claim that people who engage in some physical exercise during treatment cope better and may also live longer.

9. Address Stigmas

It is unfortunate that old stigmas and stereotypes of cancer still exist today. Friends may mistakenly wonder if cancer is contagious or even withdraw from you. Many others will give unsolicited advice, ask insensitive questions and voice their concerns. This may be frustrating or even hurtful at times.

It will be helpful for you to decide your approach in dealing with how others behave when interacting with you. Most people will often take cues from your responses. You may decide to remind friends that even if cancer has been a frightening part of your life, it should not be a reason to avoid you. You may even decide to stay away from certain groups of friends.

10. Develop your Own Coping Strategy

Every patient has his unique coping strategies. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Practise relaxation techniques. Light exercises such as yoga therapy or qigong have been well-received. Some patients practise meditation.
  • Share your feelings honestly with family, friends, a spiritual advisor or a counsellor. You may also choose a written medium instead.
  • Keep a journal to help organise your thoughts, or note down daily moments of gratitude.
  • When faced with a difficult decision, list the pros and cons for each choice to help you achieve clarity of mind.
  • Find a source of spiritual support.
  • Set aside time to be alone, and recollect and consolidate your thoughts.
  • Continue your involvement with work and leisure activities as much as you can.

You may discuss your concerns with your doctor or nurses to better understand your condition.

If you notice that you are feeling overwhelmed or find it difficult to manage your daily life, you may wish to speak to a counsellor for support. The counsellor will guide you on ways to process and manage your feelings better in the hopes that you will be able to adjust smoothly to your lifestyle with treatment.

It takes courage, hope and support to overcome this phase; and it is possible and manageable.


10 Tips for Coping with Cancer  originally appeared on Parkway Cancer Centre and has been republished with permission

Further Reading

The article above is meant to provide general information and does not replace a doctor's consultation.
Please see your doctor for professional advice.