Cancer not only takes a toll on your physical health, but can also wreak havoc on your mental well-being. Arguably the most dreaded disease, cancer evokes a wide range of emotions/psychological reactions that one is not used to dealing with. What’s worse, the feelings can change from time to time, irrespective of whether you are currently undergoing treatment or done with treatment. In fact, dealing with the cancer of a close friend or family member can also be emotionally taxing.
a. Overwhelmed: you may feel your life falling apart and everything going for a toss on first learning that you have cancer. This happens mainly because you wonder how long you’re going to live, how your normal routine will be disrupted by visits to the doctor/hospital and the treatment, the feeling that you’ll not be able to enjoy the regular things of life, and so on. All these realizations come crashing down on you to make you feel helpless and lonely.
However, no matter how out of control life feels, you can still take charge in certain ways. For starters, it helps to know more about your cancer. The more you learn about your condition, the more in control you will feel. It is also a good practice to ask questions to your doctor, and if you don’t understand something, don’t hold back; feel free to ask questions and address all your doubts.
Some people also feel better emotionally if they stay busy. Consider pursuing fun activities such as music, arts and craft, reading, learning something new, etc. if you have the energy.
b. Denial: it’s quite likely that when you’re first diagnosed with cancer, you will have trouble believing or accepting the fact that you’ve got cancer. Often referred to as denial, this feeling can actually be helpful as it gives you time to adjust to your diagnosis. During that time, you may also condition yourself to feel hopeful about the future. However, if denial lasts too long, it can be detrimental to your health, thanks to the belief that you don’t need cancer treatment since you’ve got nothing.
The good news is, most people eventually turn denial to their own favour. Generally, by the time the treatment commences, most people accept that they have cancer and move forward. This also holds good for their friends and family.
c. Anger: it’s quite normal to ask “why me?” and get angry with your circumstances. This also often triggers feelings of anger and resentment towards your healthcare providers, your family members, friends, etc. if you have a religious bent of mind, you may also feel angry with God for subjecting you to such distress and agony. Commonly this anger is rooted in feelings that are difficult to express, such as fear, panic, frustration, anxiety, and helplessness.
If you feel angry, don’t force yourself to calm down. You don’t have to pretend that everything is okay. It’s unhealthy to let such pent-up feelings brew within. Instead, try talking about it with your close ones. You can also ask your doctor to refer you to a counsellor. Anger to an optimal degree is desirable, since it often motivates you to take charge of things.
d. Fear and Worry: it goes without saying that the very realization of being diagnosed with cancer is bound to make you afraid and anxious. This can be attributed to the following reasons:
Pain due to the cancer or the treatment
Feeling sick or looking different due to the treatment
Taking care of your family
Paying your bills
Saving your job
Note that at times, the fears about cancer arise from stories, rumours, or false information. Being informed and learning the facts will make you feel empowered. You will know what to expect, and thus your fears will be alleviated significantly. It will also help you understand how you can play an active role in caring for yourself and improving your health.
e. Hope: as unlikely as it may sound, but yes, being diagnosed with cancer can also instil a sense of hope in you, as millions of people who have suffered from cancer are alive today. Also remember that people with cancer can lead active lives, even during treatment. Your chances of living with cancer, and even living beyond it, are now better than ever before. Studies suggest that being hopeful also helps your body deal with cancer. So, go about your day’s routine as normally as you can, read inspiring stories of people who have battled cancer, spend time in nature, and most importantly, don’t hold yourself back from doing things you enjoy, as long as they don’t disrupt your recovery.
Some cancer patients also report feelings of guilt, loneliness, gratitude, and so on.
1. Express your feelings: be it friends or family, other cancer survivors, a support group, or a counsellor, express the strong feelings you undergo by talking.
2. Focus on the positive: if you can manage to use your energy to focus on wellness, it can make a lot of difference to your immunity and how your body responds to the treatment.
3. Don’t blame yourself: you don’t necessarily get cancer because of something you did or did not do. Our bodies are different, and cancer can happen to anyone.
4. Don’t force yourself to be upbeat: it’s very normal to want to succumb to your feelings sometimes, and just vent out the negative energy by thinking about it yourself. You don’t always have to be upbeat.
5. Be as active as you can: consider some gentle exercises, light yoga, or stretching, or it can be as simple as just taking a walk. The point is to head out of the house and indulge in an activity that shifts your attention away from cancer. Many cancer patients benefit a lot from meditation, guided imagery, and relaxation exercises.
6. Pursue things you enjoy: try to find some creative outlet in the form of arts, music, photography. Woodworking, or anything that keeps you engaged, and makes you feel wholesome. It can be anything that helps you unwind.
7. Look at what you can control: putting your life in order may turn out to be conducive to your mental as well as physical health. Be involved in your health care, maintain or even schedule our own appointments, be active in changing your lifestyle, do anything that makes you feel more in control of things.
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