Cancer Coping Strategies

Being diagnosed with cancer can throw anyone into a state of shock. If you or a family member have been diagnosed with cancer, you'll probably experience the stages of grief, much as when you lose a loved one.

You may feel a loss of identity, in part, because now you're defined by your illness. It's important to recognize that your feelings are normal. But once you're over the initial shock, don't get stuck there. Take charge. Learn everything you can about your illness, treatment options and support services.

Here is some helpful information to get you started on your way to conquering your illness and preparing for a healthy future.

General Cancer Coping Strategies

To help you process a cancer diagnosis, keep these general strategies in mind.

  • Learn as much as you can about your cancer, including the size, stage and location (staging), whether it's fast growing or slow growing, etc.
  • Find out what your treatment options are, what the side effects might be, and the expected outcome.
  • Before each office visit, write down any questions you have for your doctor. Bring a friend or relative who can listen for you. It's a lot to absorb.
  • In fact, get yourself a friend who can pick up the slack when you become overwhelmed.
  • Develop an open and honest relationship with your doctor.
  • Ask for recommendations for support groups at Cedars-Sinai and in your community. Join the one you're most comfortable with.
  • When your emotions start to spin out of control, don't be afraid to ask for help.
  • Keep a sense of moving forward. Work with your doctor on an overall treatment plan.
  • Understand that your family is suffering in its own way.
  • Don't feel guilty about needing help, and don't let fears of becoming too dependent overwhelm you either.

Remember that you have the full support of Cedars-Sinai's staff of physicians, nurses and counselors to help you navigate every stage of your illness.

Sexuality and Cancer

Almost any cancer diagnosis will affect a patient's sexuality. Even if the treatment doesn't affect sexual function directly, side effects like hair loss can hurt a patient's self-esteem.

Sexuality encompasses more than sexual intercourse. It also includes intimacy and emotional support. Being a cancer patient makes you feel vulnerable. Sometimes all a patient really needs is to be held by a loved one.

For many, there is a strong need to feel connected, especially when the whirlwind of treatments makes it seem as if your life is spinning out of control. No matter what one's diagnosis, symptoms or treatment, cancer affects relationships — sometimes for good and bad.

Experts advise patients and their loved ones to talk about everything that concerns them — including sexuality. It's easy to focus all your energies on treatment. But sexuality is important to a person's wellbeing. And a patient's mental attitude can impact one's recovery.

Feel free to talk with your doctor about any sexual problems you may have. Or ask for a referral to a qualified counselor. Almost any mental health professional can help you deal with loss and matters of intimacy. But you might find it more effective to work with a counselor who has experience with cancer patients.

Caregiver Coping Strategies

When a person is diagnosed with cancer, the whole family is effectively diagnosed as well. That's especially true of family members who provide care. They may have to dispense medicines, keep track of symptoms, shuttle the patient to appointments and more. All the while they are experiencing stress, anxiety and loss. Indeed, family caregivers often find it difficult to achieve balance in their own lives and wind up not taking care of themselves.

Here are some tips to help you get through caring for a loved one:

  • Probably the most important thing you can do is to take good care of yourself.
  • Take time to do things you enjoy.
  • Give yourself some time to grieve.
  • Let the patient achieve some level of independence as soon as possible.
  • Establish good communications with the healthcare team.
  • Ask for information on cancer, treatments and support groups.
  • Find local support groups that can help both the patient and you.
  • Make sure the patient feels involved in normal family activities.
  • Understand and accept the patient's limitations, as well as your own.
  • Look for signs of depression (in both you and the patient). Seek professional help as soon as it's needed.
  • Ask for help when you need it. Accept it when offered.