​Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis

According to the CDC, cancer is the second leading cause of death in America, right behind heart disease, but we mustn’t give up hope hearing that statistic. A person’s chances of living with cancer and living beyond it are better than they ever have been. Millions of people who have had cancer are surviving and thriving, though it’s still very scary to hear those initial words that no one ever wants to hear, “You have cancer.” Studies have noted that “one in three people with cancer will experience a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety disorder before, during, or after treatment."
Many of us know someone in our lives that has dealt with cancer. My grandmother and mother-in-law both fought this disease, but sadly lost their battle. I know of many others that have struggled with cancer, and several that have triumphed. I had a cancer scare myself when I was in my early 20s. I was told that I needed surgery because the ovarian cyst I had looked ominous and may potentially be cancerous. I remember that day vividly. All I could think about was that I may have cancer, and I may never get married nor have children. I definitely saw my life flash before my eyes, like people say they do. Thankfully for me, it turned out to not benign, and I did get married and have a beautiful daughter.
Not only does cancer cause physical effects on the body, but it also brings a wide array of emotions. People may go through denial, fear, worry, anxiety, sadness, fatigue, anger, depression, and a loss of hope at any point during the journey. These feelings are all normal, whether currently in treatment or remission, or helping a friend or family member who has cancer. Discussing these feelings with one’s healthcare team, friends, loved ones, other cancer survivors, or a support group is important. People want to help, and it may be hard to accept that, but let them because they care. Cancer support groups are a helpful way to connect with people who have been through similar situations. If a person is found to be struggling more intensely with the process, the healthcare team may refer out to a counselor, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist.
An additional way to release, work through, and come to terms with feelings is to journal them. This is a way to acknowledge feelings and let go. Adding a Gratitude List in the journal can be helpful too. Try writing just two things that you are grateful for each day. It has been seen that within 30 days of doing this, one’s outlook will be more positive and hopeful. Also, posting inspirational quotes and pasting in our favorite images can help lift our spirits. Meditation, guided imagery, and relaxation exercises are other ways to assist us when we feel worried, along with simple deep breathing techniques. Keep it simple. These can be done several times a day to center, relax, and calm us.
Look for other things that can lift spirits like spending time with a pet, listening to uplifting or soothing music, reading inspiring books or articles, listening to encouraging podcasts, and using aromatherapy oils or candles with scents that soothe or energize.
Maintaining hobbies and pleasurable activities is important. Be as active as your energy level allows, and continue interests like gentle yoga, tai chi, and walking in nature. It’s important to take time to do activities that help unwind the mind and not add stress to our systems. Getting out in nature has a host of benefits all on its own from the wonderful sights of leaves turning colors to the sounds of a sweet bird song. Immersing ourselves in nature can make us feel that there is something bigger than us. A friend once told me to go touch a tree if I feel overwhelmed because their roots run far and deep, and grounding is similar to this. Grounding is walking outside on the grass barefoot which helps to center and “ground” us, and if getting outside isn’t possible at times, there are grounding pads. Getting out of the house and focusing on other things beyond our worries and cancer diagnosis is vital for a more positive outlook.
A cancer diagnosis can make one feel hopeless, along with a plethora of other emotions. We must acknowledge our feelings and know that we are not alone. Reaching out to support systems and taking necessary measures to focus on being healthy is vital for one’s mental outlook and recovery.