Coping with cancer is a challenge, from the moment you’re diagnosed to your initial “cancer free” report. While you can’t take away the worry or the unpleasant side effects, some time-tested tips offer respite from the hard stuff. Paul Read, MD, associate professor of radiation oncology and otolaryngology head and neck surgery at the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center, offers advice from his experience working with patients.
Coping With Your Diagnosis
The hardest part of the cancer treatment timeline can be right at the beginning — the diagnosis. It’s full of testing and unanswered questions. “This is a time of great uncertainty that can create a lot of worry and fear for patients and their families and friends,” says Dr. Read. Coping with cancer when you aren’t quite sure if it is cancer, where the cancer is and how far it’s progressed seems impossible.
To keep you and your support team calm, try to take things one day and one test at a time. You will likely have a large influx of information coming at you at once, so have a designated notebook near you to take down information. Write down questions you may have when you aren’t on the phone with your oncologist. Because of lethargy or the constant battery of tests, you may be feeling physically crummy too. Inform your doctor of your symptoms and follow her suggestions closely. Get your pain and exhaustion in check as much as you can before starting treatment.
Coping With Your Treatment
After your diagnosis, your care team works with you to develop your treatment protocol. It’s imperative that physical activity is priority during this time. Dr. Read recommends walking, an activity that’s accessible to you even on your worst days. Tying your shoelaces and starting a stroll are physically and emotionally rewarding. “Walking is a great exercise, even if patients can’t go very far. It’s very important that they keep moving to the extent that they can,” says Dr. Read. Afterwards, drink a big glass of water. “Staying well hydrated is important and another good way for patients to feel as good as possible,” he adds.
You can also battle the physical side effects of treatment with a few easy tips. For a sore mouth or painful gums due to chemo treatments, stock up on frozen treats like ice pops. For itchy skin from treatment, or for a relaxing quiet moment, make time for a quiet soak in an oatmeal bath. This will help you decompress and take time to practice mindfulness while soothing your skin.
Coping Beyond Your Treatment
With your final chemo treatment behind you, the cancer journey doesn’t necessarily end with the words “cancer free.” Instead, you may find yourself anxious about any future ache. Keep your doctor updated on your worries while attempting to ease back into your normal schedule. Finding ways to relax is imperative in your post-treatment life. Try choosing a new hobby or perhaps picking up an old one you left behind during your treatment. That will get your mind off what your body just battled.
Joining a post-treatment support group is another way to share encouragement and stories with peers who know exactly what you’re talking about. This can be a relief and a reminder that life does indeed go on. To battle any physical side effects that are lingering even after treatment has ended, such as numbness or fatigue, try yoga for a mix of relaxation and empowerment. You will feel proud as your body gets stronger. It’s a reminder that your body is capable of great things.