Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be profoundly distressing, impacting not only one's physical health but also deeply affecting one's emotional state and social interactions. Here, we'll look at how we can approach this challenging time with empowerment, focusing on cultivating hope, embracing acceptance, and engaging in activities that bring joy.
The Holistic Impact of Cancer: A Journey Beyond Physical Well-being
Cancer affects more than just your body. It intrudes upon your mental peace, shakes your financial stability, affects your professional growth, disrupts your social interactions, and even impacts your spiritual journey. Alongside grappling with the fear of declining health, loss of independence, and thoughts of mortality, cancer patients often also bear the burden of how their condition affects their loved ones.
Physiological effects such as hormonal changes, reduced mobility, and chronic pain impact our emotional state by altering the balance of dopamine (the 'happy hormone') and cortisol (the stress hormone). This imbalance can often lead to heightened anxiety, restlessness, sadness, or depression. In my practice, I prioritise educating patients about these potential effects, which allows them to understand the link between their treatments, pain, and emotional state, helping instil a sense of hope for mood improvement post-treatment.
Additionally, patients may find themselves burdened by increased financial strain owing to medical expenses, and challenges in maintaining their employment due to the intense treatment regime and cognitive changes. This amplifies the mental and emotional stress they experience, which often manifests as anger, depression, anxiety, guilt, a sense of lost control, and fear of an uncertain future.
Empowering Approaches: Steering Your Way Through Cancer
A cancer diagnosis, its treatment, and post-treatment effects can indeed be demanding and stressful. However, with effective coping strategies, we can foster resilience and maintain a positive outlook. Here are some ways we can manage this journey:
Emotional Expression and Processing: Expressing and processing emotions can lead to more positive adaptation to the cancer journey. This can be achieved through counselling sessions or by confiding in trusted loved ones.
Cultivating Optimism and Hope: It's crucial to nurture a sense of optimism and hope throughout this journey. Positive relationships, mindfulness, personal achievements, spiritual connections, and anticipation of survival can contribute to this.
Maintaining Realism: While we strive to remain hopeful and optimistic, it's equally important to be realistic about the prognosis. It may be necessary to arrange personal care services, which can provide peace of mind for you and your caregivers.
Proactive Problem-Solving: Proactively addressing diagnosis and treatment issues can bolster effective coping. Practical solutions for logistical challenges such as transport to medical appointments, maintaining schedules, note-taking, and seeking clarity on your diagnosis can be beneficial.
Leveraging Social Support: Reach out to friends and family for support. Your social network plays a crucial role in building resilience and enhancing the quality of life. It's equally important to have positive relationships with your healthcare providers.
Engaging in Hobbies: Maintaining involvement in work and hobbies provides a sense of purpose and fulfilment. This can help maintain self-efficacy and self-esteem.
Finding Strength in Spirituality: Relying on religious or spiritual practices can offer comfort and guidance during challenging times.
Joining Peer Support Groups: Accessing peer support and group counselling can provide valuable insights from others with similar experiences.
Setting Goals: Short-term and long-term goals help maintain normalcy and motivation. Having something to look forward to can uplift you during tough times.
Seeking Distractions: Activities that divert attention from your condition can provide mental respite. Engage in social interactions, entertainment, reading, or pursue any activity that brings joy and meaning to your life.
Therapeutic Support: Working with a therapist can provide an independent, objective outlet for sharing information without burdening family or friends.
Support for Cancer Patients: Reaching Out to Professionals
It's crucial to seek mental health support when everyday life becomes a struggle due to symptoms of depression or disruption of daily routines. In such cases, you can seek a referral to a mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist from your doctor, or start your search for a virtual counsellor in your area through online directories.
For those experiencing thoughts of self-harm or at risk of harm, it is crucial to seek immediate help or go to the nearest emergency room. For urgent non-emergency support, contact a crisis phone line in your country or province via call or text.
Supporting a Loved One Through Their Cancer Journey
Supporting a loved one through their cancer journey can be daunting, but with a few practical suggestions, it can be made more manageable:
Be non-judgmental and offer assistance
Practise active listening and validate their feelings
Educate yourself about their diagnosis and provide resources
Offer practical help, even if they haven't explicitly asked for it
Accompany them to healthcare appointments
Provide distractions and humour
Regularly communicate your love and care
And remember, as a caregiver, it's equally important to take care of your mental health. Maintaining your stability and self-care will enable you to provide the best possible support to your loved one.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis throws into sharp relief the value of time. It's critical for patients to have realistic expectations regarding the impact of treatments, make informed decisions, and optimise their journey towards recovery. Remember, you are not alone in this journey. Reach out for the support you need, be it from loved ones, health professionals, or support organisations. Together, we can navigate this path with resilience and hope.