Coping With Emotions

How to Deal With Grief During Your Cancer Treatment

Life losses can happen during your cancer treatment, leaving you reeling. Resist the urge to isolate and instead turn towards trusted friends for support when figuring out how to deal with grief.

Living with cancer takes up most of your physical and emotional energy, but other aspects of life won’t always slow down to accommodate your diagnosis. You may struggle with how to deal with grief that’s unrelated to your diagnosis as life marches on and throws other losses at you. Whether you lose an important person in your life, a job or a relationship, it’s important to process these life occurrences in a healthy way so your treatment isn’t compromised.

Processing Your Grief With Healthy Coping Skills

The grieving process is important to anyone who has suffered a loss, and it’s beneficial in not only building resiliency but also in providing time for gratitude. You may experience grief differently while in the midst of a cancer diagnosis or treatment, and that’s OK. If you’re working through a loss, be sure to allow yourself the opportunity to grieve and to get the help you need to process through it.

Grief looks different for every person, cancer diagnosis or not. Allow yourself to grieve in your own way, and don’t put a time limit on when you believe your mourning should stop. Instead, focus on healthy coping skills that can give you the time you need to process the loss without compromising your physical health. Consider making additional appointments with your therapist or counselor to talk through your situation, give yourself permission to rest more and talk about your feelings with your friends or family. Poor coping skills, such as using alcohol or prescription drugs in excess, can not only increase your emotional stress but also can potentially harm you physically or hinder your treatment results.

Tips to Get You Through

These tips on how to deal with grief during your cancer treatment focus on your emotional stress and physical resiliency. Here are just a few that may help you stay healthy while working through your loss.

  • When possible, take bereavement leave at work. Add on a few additional personal days to give yourself more time away from work responsibilities. If bereavement leave isn’t available for your situation, take vacation time or longer lunch breaks, or ask for an extended leave if you feel you could benefit from the time off.
  • Build extra time into your day to rest. This may sound simple, but most people don’t give themselves permission to rest during times of emotional turmoil. Binge watch a favorite show or participate in a low-key, sedentary hobby you enjoy, like knitting. Your body will benefit from extra naps or time on the couch, as will your mind.
  • Talk about your loss. Whether it’s to a therapist, to a friend or to a support group, processing your loss requires talking about it. Resist the urge to retreat alone and isolate yourself from those who care about you.
  • Eat, drink and take your medication. Grief can cause eating and sleeping disturbances, so nourish your body with healthy foods and water to help your body heal as it should. If you can’t manage the task of eating well during this time, ask your friends to bring over groceries or meals. Set your phone alarm for your medication times as well, so you don’t inadvertently skip a dose.

Working through how to deal with grief while also juggling your treatment schedule and side effects is harrowing and hard. You can get through it, one step at a time, with the right support.

Dealing with grief unrelated to your cancer diagnosis can feel like a burden during a stressful time. Counseling services and support groups at UVA can help you process your emotions.

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Haley Burress
Haley Burress