Coping with Cancer
Wayne E. Chapman Chair in
Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
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The following dos and dont’s are intended to be commonsense guidelines to help you avoid feeling trapped in the workings of a huge piece of complicated machinery. I developed these Hollands homilies, as my staff calls them, front working with people with cancer. They incorporate my ideas about the tyranny of positive thinking and how to deal with some of the attitudes that are out there about coping with cancer, some of which, as we described in Chapter 2, create more problems to deal with.
- DONT believe the old adage that cancer equals death?” There are eight million survivors of cancer in the United States today.
- DONT blame yourself for causing your cancer. There is no scientific proof linking specific personalities, emotional states, or painful life events to the development of cancer. Even if you may have raised your cancer risk through smoking or some other habit, there is no benefit to blaming yourself or beating yourself up.
- DO rely on ways of coping that helped you solve problems and handle crises in the past. If youve been a talker, find someone with whom you feel comfortable talking about your illness, if youre an inveterate non-talker, you. may find relaxation, meditation, or similar approaches helpful. The secret, however, is this: Use whatever has worked for you before, but if what youre doing isnt working, seek help to find other ways to cope.
- DO cope with cancer one day at a time. The task of dealing with cancer seems less overwhelming when you break it up this way, and it also allows you to focus better on getting the most out of each day; despite illness.
- DONT fed guilty if you cannot keep a positive attitude all the time, especially when you dont feel good. Low periods will occur, no matter how good you are at coping. There is no evidence that those periods have a negative effect on your health or tumor growth. If they become frequent or severe, though, seek help.
- DONT suffer in silence. Do use support and self-help groups if they make you feel better. Leave a group that makes you feel worse, but dont try to go it all alone, Get support from your best resources; your family, friends, doctor, clergy, or those you meet in support groups who under stand what you are going through.
- DONT be embarrassed to seek counseling with a mental health professional for anxiety or depression that interferes with your sleep, eating, ability to concentrate, or ability to function normally if you feel your distress is getting out of band.
- DO use any methods that aid you in getting control over your fears or upset feelings, such as relaxation, meditation, and spiritual approaches.
- DO find a doctor who lets you ask all your questions and for whom you fed mutual respect and trust. Insist on being a partner with him or her in your treatment. Ask what side effects you may expect and be prepared for them. Anticipating problems often makes it easier to handle them if they occur.
- DONT keep your worries or symptoms (physical or psychological) secret from the person closest to you. Ask this person to accompany you to visits to the doctor when treatments are to be discussed. Research shows that people often dont hear or absorb information when anxious. A second person will help you interpret what was said.
- DO re-explore spiritual and religious beliefs and practices such as prayer that may have helped you in the past. (If you dont consider yourself a religious or spiritual person, garner support from any belief system or philosophy that you value, such as humanism.) These beliefs may comfort you and may even help you find meaning in the experience of your illness.
- DONT abandon your regular treatment in favor of an alternative or complementary treatment (see Chapter 10). Use alternative treatments that do no harm and that can safely be used along with your regular treatment Be sure to tell your doctor which complementary therapies you are using or want to use, since some should not be used during chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Discuss the benefits and risks of any alternative or complementary treatments with someone you trust who can assess them more objectively than you when you are under stress. Psychological, social, and spiritual approaches are helpful and safe, and doctors encourage their use today
- DO keep a personal notebook with all your dates for treatments, laboratory values, X-ray reports, symptoms, and general status. Information is critical in cancer treatment, and no one can keep it better than you (see Chapter 5).