If you are fighting cancer, it is not uncommon to experience psychological distress. Whether you are coping with the diagnosis, the challenges of treatment, or continued worry about a recurrence, emotions brought on by the cancer experience can be difficult to handle.
Cancer may bring on a range of emotions, including shock, fear, regret, sadness, loneliness, depression, helplessness and feeling of vulnerability.
Psychological care is normal and necessary, and is an integral part of cancer care. Addressing your psychological well-being may help you feel more relaxed and in control, cope better during treatment, overcome anxiety and depression, and enjoy life.
Main causes of anxiety and their solution
Cancer and cancer treatment may change how your body looks, feels and performs. Physical changes associated with cancer and its treatment that may impact your self-image include:
- Changes in weight (i.e., loss or gain)
- Thinning or loss of hair
- Changes in skin tone/colour (i.e., blotchy skin) and nails
- Physical changes from surgery (i.e., scarring, loss of limb or part of the body)
- Changes in posture (i.e., Kyphosis, or hunchback)
- Changes in physical performance/abilities
- Differences in bodily/reproductive functions (i.e., incontinence, infertility)
- Swelling in the limbs (i.e., lymphedema)
These physical changes may affect your view of yourself in different ways. You may feel self-conscious or embarrassed about your body and appearance. A healthy self-image may help reduce depression and anxiety and improve your emotional well-being.
Tips for improving your looks
- While your body may look and feel different, remember you are still the same person on the inside. Look within yourself and celebrate the person you are.
- Understand that many changes in your appearance may be temporary and will go away after you complete treatment.
- Experiment with ways to enhance your appearance. Use makeup, wigs, headscarves, etc. If you lose or gain weight, have your clothes altered.
- Ask your health care team about reconstructive or cosmetic options, such as reconstructive surgery, prosthetic devices and cosmetic solutions.
- If you are unable to participate in some of your former activities or sports, try to find new activities that interest you.
- Prepare for reactions from others. Think about how you will respond ahead of time so you are prepared to handle these situations.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Keep up with routine health and hygiene activities, practice good nutrition, and stay active.
- Take part in activities outside of your home. If you are physically able, get involved in activities in your community.
- Seek support from friends, family and other cancer survivors.
- Indulge in your hobbies like art, music or dance (if you have strength).
- Watch your favourite TV shows/movies.
Feeling of isolation
Cancer can bring a shock to anybody, especially to those who are young and healthy. You may get afraid of ‘what if’ and may stop talking to people around about your feelings. You may feel as if you are different from everyone else and no one would understand what you are going through.
While the latter part may be true, there are various ways to solve this problem. Some of them are:
- Talk to someone who is close to you; they may understand your situation and may be able to sympathise with you.
- Write your feelings in a diary. This will not only help you vent your thoughts, but also you can go back and track your thoughts/mental health.
- Find cancer organisations where you can talk to more cancer patients.
- Find time for daily walk, preferably in nature.
- Try meditation; it will help you release anxiety and feel calm.
Cancer and cancer treatment takes a toll on your physical, mental and financial health. Treatments, medicine, supplements, alternative therapies can get too heavy on your pocket. This can be one of the major challenges a cancer patient may face. Consider the additional costs of medications, medical devices, travelling for treatment and parking fees at the hospital.
Many clinics and hospitals keep lists of resources to help you financially during and after your cancer treatment. Talk with your health care team about your options.
Tips for family and friends
- Be sensitive to your loved one’s feelings, and encourage him or her to talk about them with you and other family members and friends.
- If your loved one is worried about money, look for the resources that may be able to help.
- Encourage your loved one to join a support group.
- Ask your loved one’s doctor for a referral to mental health and social support services.
- Help your loved one stay as active as possible. Physical activity has been linked to lower rates of depression, as well as lower rates of recurrence of certain kinds of cancer, among survivors.