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How to Cope With the Impact of Cancer on Your Mental Health

— October 9, 2020

Take it one step at a time. Be patient and kind to yourself, and talk to your doctor frequently to learn more about your treatment options.

Right now, you’re scared. No, even scared doesn’t begin to cover it – you’re downright terrified. Simply hearing the word ‘cancer’ has a deeply disturbing effect on most people, and knowing that this word now applies to you is confusing and frightening. 

Let’s be real for a moment here: you have cancer. Right now, this is your reality, and attempting to somehow sugarcoat the fact or wrap it up in a pretty bow won’t make the situation any different. You deserve to know the truth, and you deserve to have someone talk to you without beating about the bush, and without giving you anything less than straightforward honesty. 

And that’s why we’re writing this. You’re going through something scary, and you deserve to have someone help you prepare for it. Because, you see, we believe in you. We know that, as hard as this is, you can deal with it and find inner strength that will guide you and make this easier to bear. 

We’ve compiled some useful tips that will guide you and help you figure out how to keep your mental health in check without feeling overwhelmed. Here they are: 

Take time to process your emotions

It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to break down completely. It’s okay to be numb and detached, too. Whatever emotion it is that you’re feeling right now, allow yourself the time and space to process it. Bottling everything up will only seem helpful at first, but it can actually make things worse in the long run. Similarly, if you’re feeling too numb and still need time to understand what’s happening, that’s okay too. Don’t rush and don’t think that you need to feel or act a certain way for your plight to be valid. 

This is happening to you, not to anyone else. You’re the only one whose feelings you need to consider. Don’t pressure yourself into being strong because true strength comes from understanding yourself and understanding your emotions. 

Find a support group to suit your needs

You are entitled to proper help and we’d recommend that you immediately find a support group in your neighbourhood. Of course, family and friends can also offer their own help and advice, but very often they won’t know enough about cancer treatments and how to deal with practical problems that you’re bound to run into. 

In addition to advice, certain support groups can also offer funding. For example, there’s an organization called the Hong Kong Cancer Fund that offers free services to cancer patients. You can find a ton of educational articles on the website, and use this organization to get in touch with professionals who can help you if you live in Hong Kong. Regardless of where you reside, cancer support groups aren’t a rare sight and you’re bound to find something close to you. 

Care for your health gently

It’s now more important than ever to care for your health. No matter what your prognosis for the future is, a good diet and gentle exercise will make you stronger and more resilient and could help you deal with the side-effects of chemotherapy. Filling up your plate with fruits, veggies, and lean meats like fish and chicken can build up your immune response and give you a better fighting chance, and it will certainly make it easier for you to recover when combined with proper, doctor-prescribed therapy and medication.

Assorted salads, tacos, and pizzas; image by Randy Fath, via
Assorted salads, tacos, and pizzas; image by Randy Fath, via

As for exercise, it can be something as simple as taking regular daily walks. Don’t push yourself past your capabilities, but do engage in as much physical activity as your body allows. 

Learn breathing techniques

You can learn how to meditate, or if you’re not interested in meditation, you can learn a few simple breathing techniques. Why would you bother with this skill? Because it’s soothing and it helps stabilize your mental health and stave off anxiety. Here’s a simple breathing exercise to try: 

Step 1: Inhale to the count of four.

Step 2: Hold your breath for three-five seconds.

Step 3: Exhale slowly, relaxing your shoulders as you go. 

Step 4: Repeat. 

Do this exercise daily for 10-15 minutes. You can do it in the morning, in the evening before bed, or whenever you are feeling overwhelmed and just need a few moments to center yourself. 

Be patient with yourself

The pace of recovery will be different for everyone, and cancer treatment can affect you more than someone else who’s in a similar situation. You need to be patient and give yourself enough time to respond to treatment – expecting too much too fast can actually slow down progress, and blaming yourself for not recovering quicker definitely won’t make cancer go away. 

Take your time. Rest as much as you need to. Care for your health gently. That’s the best thing you can do for yourself right now. 

Pick up a hobby or learn something new

You might not be in the mood to bother with a hobby right now, but occupying your thoughts and doing something you enjoy could actually help your mental health. If you just sit at home worrying and feeling frightened you’ll be ill-equipped to deal with any bumps in the road that come along, but having something to do and something creative to engage in can soothe your thoughts and make you feel stronger. 

Take it one step at a time. Be patient and kind to yourself, and talk to your doctor frequently to learn more about your treatment options. Don’t shut out your friends and family, and allow your community to lend a helping hand to make sure you get through these difficult times. 

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