Health: Tips for coping with a cancer diagnosis

By Donna Fleming
Keeping calm in the face of a cancer diagnosis is no easy feat – here are some tips.

Get the facts

Hearing that you have cancer is overwhelming, and you may be so stunned that the information your doctor gives you goes in one ear and out the other. If you can, take someone close to you to those initial appointments to help absorb all the details about your cancer and the treatment options. Don’t be afraid to make another appointment to get more information if necessary. And if you are tempted to consult Dr Google, bear in mind that the information on the internet is not specific to your particular situation.

Talk about what you’re going through

For some people, withdrawing into themselves after a cancer diagnosis is a natural reaction. But bottling up your feelings can make stress levels worse. Opening up to those you’re close to can help relieve some of the fear and tension that comes with a diagnosis.

Stick to your routine as much as possible

If you can, continue to do everything you would normally do on a daily basis – such as household tasks, spending time with family and friends, and physical activity. Doing these as usual can help you to feel in control of the situation.

Be prepared for physical changes

Knowing what to expect can make the changes your body goes through during treatment a little easier to handle. If you’re going to be on drugs that cause hair loss, for example, you can start looking into wigs, hats or other head coverings now, rather than when you may be feeling too unwell to go shopping.

Stick to a healthy lifestyle

Eating well can help to keep energy levels up, while getting plenty of rest is useful in managing stress and tiredness. Exercising may be the last thing you want to do, but if you can manage some kind of physical activity, it could make a big difference. Research suggests that people who exercise during treatment not only cope better but may also live longer.

Accept help

When people offer to bring you meals or look after your kids, don’t be too proud to take them up on the offer. It can not only make things easier for you, but other members of the family too – especially if they have had to take over as the primary caregiver of the children.

Talk to other people with cancer

Understandably, you may feel that people who haven’t had cancer can’t relate to what you’re experiencing. It may help to talk to other people who have been in a similar situation. Fellow cancer patients can share their insights into everything from coping with the scary news, through to what to expect during treatment. Your local branch of the Cancer Society can help to put you in touch with an appropriate person (see Friendly Support below).

Come up with your own coping strategy

Possibilities include:
• Learning relaxation techniques.
• Writing down your thoughts in a journal.
• Having counselling with a professional therapist.
• Finding spiritual support.
• Taking part in activities you enjoy, like meeting friends.

Friendly support

The Cancer Society can help people diagnosed with cancer in numerous ways. Check out your local branch to see if they offer any of the following:
• Counselling sessions for patients and their families.
• Free educational talks for people with cancer and their families.
• A four-week group programme that lets people with cancer meet others going through a similar experience. The Cancer Information Helpline is a national, toll-free service for people with cancer, their families, the general public and health professionals. Experienced cancer nurses can answer calls or emails in confidence, and in simple language. They can also pass on details about things such as support in the community and alternative therapies.
Call 0800 CANCER (226 237) or email information@akcansoc.org.nz.

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