Cancer & Emotions Part V: A Guide for Patients and Family – Coping with Cancer

Cancer & Emotions: A Guide for Patients and Family Part V: Coping with Cancer

If you need help coping with your cancer diagnosis and treatment, but all you can find online are sources implying that you are (or should be) depressed, then this article is for you. Yes, it’s a normal part of coping with cancer to experience anxiety and depression. But some folks have a very active and strong support system within their family and friends, a great spiritual or faith tradition at their center and a fabulous doctor. So, maybe you are one of these lucky ones. If so, perhaps you’re not depressed, but just need some encouragement, good advice, or just a virtual high-five for hanging in there through your treatment? Here are a few suggestions, tips, and recommendations that can hopefully put a smile on your face and help you push through.


Get Informed

You might be way past this tip, but just in case, I thought I should include it. Gather as much information as you can about your type of cancer, different treatment options, tests and procedures that you need, and possible side effects. Write things down and get a family member or friend to help you, if needed. Keep in mind that you want to be informed and prepared, but you don’t want to obsess over this information. Find a balance between becoming a responsible expert on your condition versus going overboard. Even more important than gathering information is how you will use the information, which brings me to my next point.


Create A Plan of Action

Make a to-do list of questions to ask, doctors to contact, reading/researching that you want to do, how to prepare for tests and procedures, etc. Think about want you want to do with the information you receive during appointments, from other patients, or anything you learn along the way. There are apps that you can download on your smart phone that can help you stay informed and organized.

Physical and Emotional Well Being

After running around to appointments, tests, procedures, friends/family homes, and support groups, you might begin to feel like you’ve taken on a part-time job. Take time for yourself to do an activity that you enjoy. If you find that you’re spending a lot of time around other people, make sure to spend some relaxing time alone every day. It’s okay to let others take care of you, but make sure you spend time taking care of yourself too. Try to keep routines similar to the ones you had before you were diagnosed. You’re schedule will need readjusting
in order to keep up with the demands of your treatment, but you want to maintain some sameness and normalcy.


Talk, Vent, Express Yourself

Having a healthy outlet to release your feelings is so important, now more than ever. Everyone has different preferred ways of expressing their feelings. While some are talkers, others do better writing a story, blogging, or journaling. Don’t let emotions and thoughts about your diagnosis and treatment build up. Feelings are not meant to be kept inside you. If you want to talk, family and friends are usually our first choice, but sometimes it’s hard to handle the (inevitable) emotions and worries from loved ones (i.e., you don’t want to end up
being the designated therapist for others when you really need to talk yourself). In this case, you can talk to a mentor, mental health professional, or support group. You can join or start your own online blog (we did). Whatever the means, express your feelings about adjusting to this new journey in your life.


Cancer & Emotions Part III: A Guide for Patients and Family – Depression and Anxiety During Cancer Treatment

Cancer & Emotions Part III: A Guide for Patients and Family – depression and anxiety during cancer treatment 

You’ve been diagnosed, you’re going through treatment, seeing (too many) doctors, going back and forth, appointments, prescriptions, health insurance phone calls. All of a sudden, the enormity and terror of it all hits you like a ton of bricks. Your life has changed so drastically that you don’t even recognize it. Depression and anxiety during cancer treatment hits everyone, often in unexpected ways.

As if all of these this weren’t enough, you’re lying in bed at night (or first thing when you wake up in the morning) after an overwhelmingly “busy” and appointment-filled day and that feeling hits you. That empty, helpless, scared feeling; deep down in your gut. That worried “What am I going to do?” feeling.

Normal Reaction to Abnormal Situation

This (what I have described) is so common. It is actually the most common occurrence that people diagnosed with cancer describe. That’s if and when they get around to describing it because there is an unsolved mystery surrounding mental health: In general, people just don’t want to talk about it. The brave ones who do, tell strikingly similar stories, which means that depression and anxiety during cancer treatment is often part of the typical “package” of dealing with cancer. You are not alone.


Not Your Fault, Is Your Challenge

Things can get a little confusing too because sometimes it’s hard to tease out where the depression and anxiety are coming from. What is causing the symptoms is important because that will lead to a clearer understanding of how to treat the emotions and feelings. The majority of people think, “It’s me, there’s something wrong with me,” when in reality depression and anxiety during cancer treatment can occur due to a variety of reasons.

One reason is that some medications and specific treatments have depression and/or anxiety as part of their side-effect profile! If this reason is ruled-out, then maybe it is “you.” But I have news for you: if the depression and/or anxiety is coming from within you, then congratulations you are a normal human being. Experiencing depression and anxiety is a normal part of the diagnosis and treatment process.


It might be easier for you to understand this concept if you think of the opposite scenario: Imagine someone undergoing cancer treatment and not feeling depressed or anxious. Aside from this being very weird, it’s also not normal. You would think that this person is either in complete denial or that something else is seriously wrong. I know that we are all different and everyone reacts differently to change and stress, but the take home message here is that becoming depressed and anxious during cancer treatment is your body’s way of processing everything that’s going on. It’s a normal response to an abnormal situation.


What You Can Do Now

Keep in mind that although it’s normal and part of the “process,” depression and anxiety during cancer treatment can be addressed and alleviated. Your physical health is not the only thing that cancer has touched. Your mind and in fact the very heart and soul of you at your core need healing, too. You can use this depression and anxiety to aid your entire healing process, to help you grow stronger, and to help you learn the skills you need to face not only this illness, but also life and all the ups, downs, surprises, changes, and challenges that life has in store. This is a special strength that not everyone has the opportunity to build on because not everyone has been given this challenge that you are faced with.

I work with cancer patients and their loved one. It’s a passion and a path. If you or someone you know’s life has been touched by cancer, please consider sharing my information with them.

“Release your struggle, let go of your mind, throw away your concerns, and relax into the world. No need to resist life; just do your best. Open your eyes and see that you are far more than you imagine.”
Dan Millman, Author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior