Coping With Cancer in Everyday Life

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Coping with your emotions

    The best prescription is knowledge.
    – C. Everett Koop, MD, former US Surgeon General

Some people find that it’s easier for them to face the reality of something new or scary if they learn as much as they can about it. This is especially true when you are dealing with a complex group of diseases like cancer. There’s often a great fear of the unknown and uncertainty about what’s going to happen. Knowledge can help lessen the fear of the unknown. You can learn a lot about the type of cancer you have, its treatment, and what you can expect.

Be your own advocate. Even though people facing cancer cannot change their diagnosis, they can seek out reliable, up-to-date information and talk to family members, friends, and their health care team. Finding good sources of support can help people with cancer take control of their situation and make informed decisions.

It’s important to work through your feelings about cancer, because how you feel can affect how you look at yourself, how you view life, and the decisions you make about treatment.

These tips can help you make your medical appointments as useful as possible:

  • Make a list of questions to ask your health care team.
  • Bring a family member or friend with you. They can serve as an extra pair of ears, help you remember things later, and give you support.
  • Ask if you can record important conversations.
  • Take notes. If someone uses a word you don’t know, ask them to spell it and explain it.
  • Ask your health care team to explain anything you don’t understand.

You will not be able to change many things in your life. Focus on what you can change to gain a greater sense of control over your situation.

    Delores, cancer survivor:Daily walks and, later, running helped me keep my sanity after I was diagnosed.”

Other things you can do to deal with your emotions:

  • Ask for support from family, friends, and others. Just having someone who cares and will listen to you can be very helpful. If friends or family members are not able to be supportive, find others who will. Health care professionals (such as social workers, psychologists, or other licensed health professionals) and support groups can be extra sources of support.
  • Get spiritual support through prayer, meditation, or other practices that help you feel more at peace. You may want the guidance of a chaplain, pastor, rabbi, or other religious leader.
  • Pay attention to your physical needs for rest, nutrition, and other self-care measures.
  • Find ways to express your feelings, such as talking or writing in a journal.
  • Allow yourself private time and space.
  • Walk or exercise. Be sure to talk with your cancer care team about your plans before starting a new exercise program or activity.
  • Find out what helped other patients and families cope with cancer, and/or talk with other people diagnosed with the same type of cancer.
  • Make changes at home to create a healthier environment; talk with your doctor about making healthy lifestyle choices.

Feeling sad all the time, having trouble sleeping, or thinking about suicide are signs that you need professional help. Other signs that you might need help include feelings of panic, intense anxiety, or constant crying. If you think you might need professional help, talk with your doctor.


Last Medical Review: 07/18/2012
Last Revised: 07/18/2012