A cancer diagnosis can be a life altering event that brings about a variety of challenges, emotions and thoughts. The threat of mortality often comes to the forefront. Existential issues may surface. Questions arise– what will tomorrow bring? What can I expect? What will my future look like? How will my family be affected?
Amidst these questions, patients often ask, “how do I cope?” It’s important to remember that everyone’s unique in their reaction and that everyone copes differently. What works for one person may not work for another. Sometimes patients need additional support as they are going through the treatment process, whereas others find they need more help after medical treatment is over. Based on my experience helping people navigate through the emotions of their cancer journey, patients have remarked that the following has been most helpful to them.
Examine what has worked in the past and change what doesn’t work
We are creatures of habit, and this applies to our coping skills as well. It’s helpful to evaluate what techniques might continue to be helpful for you and what techniques aren’t working or may even be maladaptive.
Take it day by day
Sometimes this may mean taking it hour by hour. When confronted with intense problems or issues, people sometimes tend to fast forward into the future and ruminate about fears and concerns. It’s often helpful to reel yourself back into the present moment and focus on “the now.” This isn’t always easy and often requires multiple reminders to yourself.
Treat your whole self
In addition to medical treatment, make sure you nurture and attend to all aspects of your life – behavioral, spiritual, emotional, cognitive, and social. This may include engaging in things like prayer, exercise, experiencing nature, interacting with friends, education, relaxation techniques, listening to music, or journaling. Find what works for you. It might change depending on the day or how you are feeling.
Control what you can
Many people describe cancer as an experience where they feel stripped of control. It can be easy to linger on the things you can no longer do. Evaluate your life and focus on what you do have control over, no matter how small, as this helps people feel empowered.
Know that there is a connection between physical concerns and your emotions
While this might seem obvious, it’s helpful to remember that it’s harder to cope when you are physically not feeling well, in pain, or fatigued. Managing your physical symptoms, taking time to rest and implementing relaxation techniques can all be helpful in bolstering your emotional well-being.
Sometimes people need additional help. Some signs that you might benefit from speaking with a therapist include experiencing concerns, worries or fears that interfere with your daily functioning, feeling hopeless, depressed or anxious, having difficulty sleeping or concentrating, or having no interest in things that you once enjoyed. Always seek professional help if you have thoughts of ending your life. There are resources available, whenever that time might be, to help you through what can be an isolating experience.
So, what do you do to cope? What helps you get through difficult times?
This blog post was contributed by R. Renee Phillips, Ph.D. Phillips, a licensed psychologist at the Virginia R. Cvetko Patient Education Center at Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center.