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How to Cope With Cancer

  • Be an advocate for yourself. It’s important to learn about your disease, the process of diagnosis, and available treatments. Seek reliable, updated information and talk to others to help you make informed decisions and take actions that you know are best for you. This will help empower you and relieve some of the negative emotions that accompany cancer. Read more about self-advocacy.
  • Recognize your feelings. It may be helpful to work through your feelings about cancer as they can affect how you view yourself, your experiences, decisions, and your overall life. Knowing what emotions you feel can enable you to evaluate why you are feeling that way and how to better cope with it.
  • Share your feelings. Studies have shown that sharing fears and anxieties with others helps to strengthen patients emotionally. Talk to your friends and family or express your feelings in a journal or artwork. 
  • Turn to spirituality. Quiet prayer, meditation, reflection or turning to the guidance of a religious leader may help you find peace and strength through your spirituality and faith.
  • Get help and support. Don’t underestimate the importance of seeking help if you feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, or depressed about your situation. Read more about Finding Support. 

Without question, cancer is stressful. And just when you think you have gotten your stress level under control, you may have new concerns pop up or need to make more decisions. When this happens try to remember: Stress is a normal response to what I’m going through right now. Then take some time to identify the sources of stress and develop some strategies to help manage them. Finding ways to reduce stress will help you decrease its impact on your physical and emotional wellbeing.

Not everyone cope with stress, depression, worry, or other negative emotions in the same way. You may have found that your coping style has helped you manage quite well. Or you may find that your old ways of coping aren’t working and that you need to learn new skills. In general, using an active coping style is better and healthier than trying to avoid the problem.

Active Ways to Cope 

  • Take action to get rid of the problem 
  • Plan how to deal with the problem
  • Look for advice and information to deal with the problem
  • Look for sympathy and emotional support
  • Accept that the problem exists and decide what you can and cannot control
  • Try to get a new perspective by making the best of the situation
  • Become aware of your feelings about the problem and express them to others

Using Avoidance to Cope 

  • Deny that the problem exists 
  • Withdraw from social experience 
  • Avoid any thoughts about the problem 
  • Wishful thinking 
  • Use drugs or alcohol to forget the problem 
  • Blame and criticize yourself for the problem 
  • Keep extra busy and ignore the problem 

There are many people and resources to help you cope with your diagnosis and treatment. You can reach out to:

Family and Friends - They can be supportive in many ways, such as helping with house chores, keeping you company, or providing another listening ear at doctors visits. When they ask how they can help, be honest. Don't assume they know what you need.

Health Care Team - They can help you manage side effects, address your concerns and direct you to available community resources. Don’t hesitate to talk to them.

Cancer Support Groups - Support groups bring together people who have cancer so that they can help each other through the experience. The Cancer Support Community has an online support community called the Living Room, which has support groups and discussion boards. Learn more about the Living Room.

Spiritual Advisors - Many people turn to their spiritual side to help them through their cancer. Spiritual help can include a church, synagogue, meditation, or simply a quiet place. Reading, talking with others, and reaching out to those in a spiritual setting can help lend you peace and strength. People with cancer who have a religious affiliation may wish to meet with a representative of their faith to discuss the difficult questions that arise, and be reassured that having doubts and being angry are normal responses to having cancer.

Cancer Programs & Resources - Many organizations, hospitals, groups and individuals have developed various programs and resources to help people affected by cancer and their loved ones get educated about cancer, cope with your emotions, and alleviate problems. Learn about available resources.

A diagnosis of cancer brings many changes. Many of these changes are physical and/or emotional, while others may be more spiritual or existential in nature. These types of changes may lead you to question the meaning of your life or what really matters. Spending some time thinking about this topic may help you to discover new goals, priorities and possibilities.

Ways to Find New Meaning and Value in Your Life After Cancer

  • Assess your life - Some survivors say their cancer gave them a wake-up call and a second chance to make life what they want it to be. Ask yourself those tough questions. Am I really a happy? Have I postponed things that are important to me? You may notice that answers to these questions and others will help to define what is most meaningful to you.
  • Give back - For some, reaching out and helping others helps them and you find meaning in their cancer experience.
  • Seek support - Community based organizations such as the Cancer Support Community can help you connect with others in a similar situation. A trusted clergy member or professional counselor may be able to help you consider questions about the meaning of life.
  • Keep a journal - Write down your thoughts about what gives meaning to your life now.
  • Life review - Thinking about or writing your life’s history can clarify what has been accomplished and what remains to be done.
  • Meditate or pray - Allowing yourself to sit quietly may be helpful in creating the mental space and perspective that will allow you to answer your questions about the meaning of life.