Coping With Emotions

Increasing Patient Morale Throughout the Cancer Journey

Increasing patient morale isn't always easy, but there are techniques you can use to help your loved one stay positive during treatment.

Cancer takes a profound emotional, psychological and even physical toll on everyone, from the person receiving the diagnosis to their entire support system. While it can be difficult, it’s helpful to try to keep your and your loved one’s outlook as positive as possible.

By increasing patient morale, you can play an active role in keeping their spirits high so that the process of managing cancer is as peaceful as possible. While each person is different, knowing some general tips for remaining positive can do wonders for helping your loved one through their cancer journey.

Attitudes and Cancer

People living with cancer experience a range of emotions. It’s unrealistic to believe that someone will be continuously happy or upbeat after their diagnosis — in fact, coping with a major disease like cancer may bring feelings of depression, anxiety, fear, anger, sadness and guilt. These feelings are normal, and it’s important for the person with cancer to be able to express their emotions without fear of judgment from others.

Talking about cancer and the emotions it causes can help relieve some of the emotional burden of the diagnosis. Making yourself available to simply listen to your loved one can have profoundly positive effects on them. According to the National Cancer Institute, when people with cancer express their sadness or anger, they have an easier time letting go of those feelings.

Beyond Talking

Some people just don’t want to talk about their emotions, and that’s OK too. As a caregiver, it’s important to adapt to your loved one’s attitudes and moods, and seek out other ways of increasing patient morale if talking isn’t enough. There is no one-size-fits-all plan for staying positive while dealing with cancer.

You can help boost your loved one’s mood and keep their spirits high with many types of activities. These may include:

  • Anticipating and planning for changes. A cancer diagnosis almost always means significant changes to a person’s normal life and schedule. Helping your loved one prepare for upcoming changes, such as the possibility of losing their hair or having to take time off work, can help them feel more in control during their cancer journey.
  • Staying as active as possible. Exercise helps the person with cancer maintain their energy level, and Mayo Clinic reports that people who regularly exercise during cancer treatment may cope with their illness better and actually live longer.
  • Practicing different relaxation techniques. It’s important for people living with cancer to be able to relax. You can help your loved one unwind with different relaxation techniques. According to the National Cancer Institute, meditation and imagery or deep breathing exercises all promote a sense of peace, which can boost your loved one’s mood and outlook.
  • Focusing on what the patient can control. To your loved one, it may seem like cancer is unmanageable. But you can help them regain a sense of control by focusing on factors they can deal with. For patients, setting and maintaining a normal schedule, being involved in their healthcare decisions and making necessary changes to their lives are all steps to increasing patient morale.

Facing a cancer diagnosis is difficult, but you can help your loved one stay positive. Learn about what their specific needs are, then work to meet them. From a simple conversation to daily exercise and relaxation techniques, you can help create a positive mindset for someone dealing with cancer.

While caring for your loved one with cancer, it's important to take care of yourself as well. UVA Cancer Center offers a number of caregiver support services.

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Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN