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Coping with cancer

Everyone experiences a diagnosis of cancer differently and the impact it has can be dependent on the type of cancer, prognosis, treatment planned and your life circumstances and age.

There are a few tips that might come in handy for coping with the initial diagnosis and early stages of treatment:

  • Allow yourself to cope in the way that you need to, if that is being super organised and busy then go with that, if you want to pretend it is not happening at all most of the time then go with that. There is no right way to respond and certainly no shoulds in terms of coping.
  • Seek the information you feel you need but be sure to stick to your treatment team or reputable sources and know when it is time to turn off the computer and switch off from information that is overwhelming or adding to your distress.
  • A diagnosis almost always comes as a huge shock. Expect that the effort to process the diagnosis and all the information and planning that goes with that will leave you utterly exhausted at times. You may find yourself in a fog and are likely to need to rest.
  • Telling people can be a tricky process and it can add to the emotional exhaustion you are already feeling. You may want to tell some people immediately and leave other people for later and may choose not to tell everyone in your life. You do not need to tell everyone yourself and it is reasonable to ask someone to pass on the news to others on your behalf. If you have school age children it can be useful to inform their school so that there is extra monitoring and support of your children and allowances to be made where necessary. Some people prefer to communicate updates via a Whatsapp or messenger group or through a designated person that others can contact to prevent you from being bombarded with well wishers and questions.
  • Other people can be a great source of comfort and support but they can also bring unwelcome advice and comments that can get very trying. Having a few standard responses at the ready can reduce the negative impact on you and curb unhelpful conversations. For example when you get tips from someone’s third cousin’s cancer treatment to say ‘Thanks but I am confident in my treatment and treatment team’, or when you are asked probing questions about the development of the cancer it can be good to remind them that being alive is the greatest risk factor for cancer.
  • You are likely to need help with some things and accepting offers of help is wise. If the offers of help become too much, allocating a co-ordinator takes the pressure off you directly.
  • The pathway from diagnosis to treatment and beyond is often winding. There can be a lot of waiting and adjusting to new information and phases of treatment and monitoring. It is natural for your brain to attempt to manage the sense of threat by thinking about all the implications and possible ramifications of your diagnosis. This can lead to a great sense of overwhelm. Grouping the experience into chapters so that you can focus on just the immediate next step can improve your overall ability to cope.
  • Now is a good time to review your coping skills and to freshen up familiar strategies and perhaps learn some more. Distraction in any form can provide a welcome respite from the experience of cancer. Mindfulness strategies can take the edge of low mood and anxiety.
  • When you feel able, it is useful to keep living as fully as you can alongside your cancer diagnosis and treatment. Remember to focus on day to day living and life beyond cancer as much as you can.

We would like to acknowledge psychologist Christy Potter of Potter Psychology for her contribution to our work with clients and cancer.

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