CanHOPE is a non-profit cancer counselling and support service provided by Parkway Cancer Centre, Singapore.

Psychological Health

10 Steps for Coping with Cancer

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Receiving a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming and difficult. You may feel a myriad of emotions ranging from fear and anxiety to anger. You may even feel confused and helpless. These are natural responses to what may be the biggest challenge you have encountered. We hope to help you in your journey towards treatment and rehabilitation. Here are some suggestions to help you manage and cope with cancer:

  1. Get accurate information about your cancer diagnosis
    Acquiring knowledge will ease tensions caused by guessing and fear of the unknown. Try to gather as much practical and relevant information as possible about your cancer diagnosis. It may be helpful to be accompanied by a trusted friend or family member during the first few consultations with the doctor. They will be able to help you process the information communicated. Write down your questions and concerns beforehand and bring them with you.
  2. Maintain a culture of open communication
    Be committed to have honest dialogues with your loved ones, doctors and caregivers after your cancer diagnosis. You may feel particularly alone and disconnected if people try to shield you from bad news or if you try to put up a brave front. By permitting an honest expression of emotions, you and your loved ones are open to be vulnerable and receive support from each other. Allow yourself to develop new openness with loved ones — share your thoughts and feelings with them and perhaps invite them to do likewise. Open dialogues can reduce anxiety and fear caused by cancer. If need be, you may speak to a counsellor or therapist to facilitate these dialogues.
  3. Prepare for possible physical changes
    Now — after the cancer diagnosis and before you begin treatment — is the ideal time to prepare to adjust to any impending physical changes. Speak with your doctor about the changes you can expect to experience. If hair-loss is a known side-effect, do attend practical workshops such as “Look Good, Feel Better” where experts provide advice on wigs, hairpieces, skin-care, make-up and dressing. There are also support groups and websites where information, support and even wig banks are readily available.
  4. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
    Embarking on a light exercise regimen and eating healthily can help improve energy levels. You may speak to a dietitian or plan a healthy diet consisting of fresh foods, avoiding artificial flavours and preservatives. Taking after-dinner strolls, engaging in stretching exercises and getting adequate rest may help you manage the fatigue of the cancer and its treatment. Recent research has supported the claim that people who engage in some physical exercises during treatment cope better and may also live longer.
  5. Allow your loved ones to help
    Be open to receiving love and practical assistance from your friends and family. They can help with household chores, running errands, ferrying you to and from appointments and preparing meals. In accepting their help, they feel empowered to contribute to your well-being during a difficult time, fostering a sense of mutual support and solidarity. You may also encourage your family to accept practical assistance, such as allowing friends to chauffeur or babysit your children.
  6. Re-evaluate your life goals
    A cancer diagnosis invariably leads one to contemplate the meaning of life. It is a good time to reflect upon what and whom you truly value and determine what is really important in your life. Make time to engage in activities, which give your life joy and fulfilment. These activities need not be ambitious; some find joy in playing the piano, listening to music or painting. Others find solace and peace in praying, reading spiritual books or writing an autobiography.
  7. Work on maintaining your normal lifestyle
    When faced with uncertainty, planning a significant lifestyle change will seem overwhelming. Thus, you are encouraged to take small steps. Seek to maintain your normal lifestyle as much as possible, slowly modifying your routine as necessary. It helps to be gentle and patient with yourself and your caregivers. Adopt a new philosophy of being in the moment and taking one day at a time.
  8. Talk to other people with cancer
    It may appear to you that people who have not experienced cancer will never truly understand the magnitude of your feelings. Many patients find talking to fellow cancer patients or survivors, helpful and inspiring. These conversations provide an insight into what you can expect during treatment and allow you to also empathise with others and provide a listening ear. You may approach a friend or family member who has had cancer or you can connect with other cancer survivors through support groups.
  9. Address stigmas
    It is unfortunate that old stigmas and stereotypes of cancer still exist today. Friends may wonder if cancer is contagious or may even withdraw from you as they fear saying the wrong things. Many others will give unsolicited advice, ask insensitive questions and voice their concerns. This may be frustrating or even hurtful at times. It will be helpful for you to decide your approach in dealing with how others behave when interacting with you. Most people will often take cues from your responses. You may decide to remind friends that even if cancer has been a frightening part of your life, it shouldn't make them afraid to be around you. You may even decide to stay away from certain groups of friends.
  10. Attend to Your Emotions
    Here are some strategies that can help strengthen your emotional fitness:
    • Practise relaxation techniques. Light exercises such as yoga therapy or qigong have been well-received. Some patients meditate with religious groups.
    • Share your feelings honestly with family, friends, a spiritual adviser or a counsellor. You may also choose to write them letters if you prefer the medium of the written word.
    • Keep a journal to help organise your thoughts, or note down daily moments of gratitude.
    • When faced with a difficult decision, list the pros and cons for each choice to help you achieve clarity of mind.
    • Find a source of spiritual support.
    • Set aside time to be alone, to recollect and consolidate your thoughts.
    • Continue your involvement with work and leisure activities as much as you can.

CanHOPE’s professional allied health team is available to help you and your loved ones manage a cancer diagnosis. Our services include dietary counselling, psycho-social counselling support, palliative care support, patient and caregiver support groups and cancer-education workshops. To find out more, visit us online at www.canhope.org.