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How to Deal with Having Cancer


Feb 2015


The diagnosis of cancer can be an overwhelming situation, regardless of the type of cancer that is present within the body.  It is fairly well recognized that even cancers which respond well to treatment still indicate that the body has a pre-disposition to the formation of malignant cells.  However, it also needs to be noted that diagnosis and prognosis can be entirely different things for any type of cancer.

Positive coping mechanisms have been shown to play a part in beneficial health outcomes.  A positive and stress free mental outlook helps to boost immune response and healing factors and can also reduce the perception of pain. For this reason, gaining acceptance of a cancer diagnosis and practicing good coping skills can lead to better wellness, regardless of the health condition.

Knowledge is Power

One of the best ways for patients to cope with having cancer can be to educate themselves about the illness.  This can include learning about:

  • Treatments and therapies
  • Course of the illness
  • History of that type of cancer
  • Case studies
  • Current drug research
  • Current research on the disease

Taking this action accomplishes several important functions for coping.  The first thing that education produces is a lessening of fear about the unknown.  As the patient becomes familiar with the disease and all the information related to the cancer, the illness also becomes less of an unknown.  On a psychological level, it can reduce anxiety by eliminating many of the fearful gaps that the mind will naturally try to fill in.  When the brain has valid information to compute, it will defer to this experience, rather than inventing one to fill in the unknown.

Another important aspect that education fulfills is that it can lead to patient empowerment.  By conducting personal research the patient is also able to gain insight and ask physicians about specific courses of treatment that may be preferable.  This allows the patient to have some form of control in the disease situation, rather than just being controlled by the disease.  As a result, the patient is able to take some responsibility in their care and this can lead to a more positive mental outlook.

Make Plans to Deal with the Diagnosis

Making plans after receiving a cancer diagnosis can be integral to coping.  While this action can also be seen as another form of gaining some control and becoming empowered, it can also serve a very practical purpose as a by-product of the coping.

There are generally two very specific arenas in which a patient will want to make plans.  The first will be about the course of treatment, and the second will be about personal affairs.  While it may initially seem as though these concepts will result in divergent emotional reactions, they do each return to concepts of control and also acceptance.

One of the most important aspects about gaining acceptance is that it reduces the amount of energy that is spent in fighting the situation.  It should be noted that acceptance is not the same as giving up, but is more similar to making the observation that the sun rises in the east, or that the sky is blue.  Acceptance ultimately means that a person is acknowledging a reality, but it still allows the individual to have personal feelings about that reality.

By reducing the mental energy that is spent on struggling against the reality, it also frees up mental faculties for such emotions as joy and hope.  It also aids patients from becoming stuck in an obsessive cycle regarding the diagnosis, and lets them focus on friends, family, and other loved ones instead.  This can be supportive on a number of levels, and is a positive strategy for wellbeing.

Making plans can also shift the focus away from the disease and make it more centered on presence tense.  This is usually accomplished through two different mechanisms.  By taking action about treatment and personal affairs, patients can gain the peace of mind that their wishes will always be carried out, and the concept of legacy is also one of hope.  Another point is that by focusing on these realities, they can be released from the consciousness, so that enjoyment of the moment is more of an option.

Planning out a course of treatment also lets patients become comfortable with their own healing process, which can be vitally important for recovery.  There may be medication and therapy options that are more feared than the disease itself, and this can greatly impact the healing factor.  Patients who see chemotherapy as a poison will generally not respond as well as patients who see the treatment as healing.

This makes deciding on the right course of treatment integral to coping and to maintaining hope.  Patients who explore their options and make educated decisions will often have a better prognosis than those who do not, and also tend to have less adverse side effects to the medications they are given.

Finding Cancer Support Groups

Support networks are not only necessary for healing, but also for learning proper coping.  These networks can consist of professionals or friends, but it is important that the people who are involved can all provide positive or growth inducing input.  Some good support groups include:

Having human support can greatly aid patients at any stage of the illness, but getting involved with a positive network early on can also facilitate the process of acceptance and even healing.

Many patients also find it beneficial to develop a relationship with their healthcare providers.  This can aid in communication with providers but can also assure patients that they are being attended to and listened to over the course of their journey.  Although each day of the process can bring new challenges, patients who use positive coping tools are able to better enjoy their quality of life and feel empowered throughout the illness.

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