A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming on your emotions as well as your physical body. Emotions vary greatly among individuals including anger, shock, devastation, anger, fear and even disbelief. It’s easy to understand the numerous thoughts and feelings you are experiencing and you may want to shut down the world around you.
A cancer diagnosis can leave you facing decisions regarding treatment, death, bodily changes, family and relationships. You may worry about work, finances, and daily tasks. Remember that your feelings and reactions are completely normal.
Dealing With Emotions
The most important way to deal with your emotions is to first recognize and respect your feelings and thoughts. Your stress will be greatly reduced when you work through your emotions without judgement. I would compare your emotional changes to riding a roller coaster. There will be highs and lows, they will change frequently and with intensity as you progress through your cancer journey.
Effective ways to help dealing with your emotions include:
Spend time with positive, hopeful people.
Become knowledgeable about your specific cancer diagnosis. This will help you to feel more in control. Ask your doctor questions and if you don’t understand, speak up. More knowledge will help when you seek and receive treatment.
If you are feeling denial, that’s ok. In some ways, it’s giving you time to adjust to your diagnosis. If it becomes a serious problem, speak with a counsellor so it doesn’t interfere with your treatment.
It’s normal to feel anger towards everyone including your health care providers, family, friends and even God. It’s important to speak about your anger and not keep it inside. Be open with family and friends about your feelings. Seek out a counsellor to work through the anger.
Remain hopeful and recognize that millions of people have been cured of cancer. During treatment you can even lead an active, fulfilling and positive life.
Journal about reasons to be hopeful and engage in conversations with other positive people.
Spend time in nature reflecting and meditating on your spiritual or religious beliefs.
Join a support group with other people living with cancer. This will help you to not live in insolation. You can gain useful advice from others living with the same diagnosis as you.
If you are experiencing depression, it’s essential to speak with your doctor as it could affect your treatment plan.
Take stock of your life and understand the importance of little things. You may want to travel, start a new hobby, focus on your relationships or simple things like enjoying your grandchildren.
Physical Activity During Treatment
It’s important to be active during treatment and recovery. It helps to reduce stress and anxiety. It can increase energy which in turn increases your appetite. You will sleep better, regain strength after treatment and help to reduce side effects. Exercise will elevate your mood and reduce feelings of depression which is quite common after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Exercise will help to control your weight. Evidence shows that gaining weight can raise the risk of cancer returning, especially for breast, colon and prostate cancers.
Research indicates that those who exercise regularly had 40% to 50% less fatigue which is a common complaint during treatment. These benefits will help you to better handle your treatment and recover faster.
Before starting a physical activity, check with your doctor as there may be specific activities you can do depending on your diagnosis. Your health care providers may recommend a physical therapist to help design a safe program for you. For example, an individualized exercise program can focus on improving range of motion to prevent lymphedema which may affect breast cancer patients. If you are at risk for infection or anemia your doctor may recommend on holding off with an exercise program.
Here are some tips to think about before starting your exercise program:
Look for programs designed for cancer patients.
If mineral levels in your blood, such as sodium or potassium, are not normal, check with your doctor.
Avoid public places, such as gyms, if you have a weakened immune system.
Avoid exercise that may cause falls or injuries such as uneven surfaces.
Do not use heavy weights if you have osteoporosis or cancer that has spread to the bones.
If you are receiving radiation treatment, avoid swimming pools as the chlorine may irritate your skin.
Start out slow by daily walking and gradually increase the length and intensity.
Exercise when you have the energy, for example, first thing in the morning. If you start to feel tired, break up your routines into smaller sessions.
Implement a program that includes strength and flexibility exercises.
Housework such as vacuuming, washing floors, moving the grass or gardening count as exercise.
If you can, walk instead of driving. Park your car a few blocks from your destination and walk to it. Use the stairs instead of an elevator.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated.
Avoid exercise if you are running a fever or not feeling well.
Traveling With Cancer
A cancer diagnosis should not dissuade you from travelling during and after cancer treatment. With careful planning and preparation, you can enjoy a safe and enjoyable journey.
Most important is to check with your health care providers regarding all your travel plans before you book and make reservations. Consider some of the following tips while making travel arrangements:
Bring phone numbers of your health care providers.
If you have special requirements such as frequent trips to the washroom, request an aisle seat while traveling. Check with the hotel if you require handicap accessibility or a room close to an elevator. If you need oxygen, let your airline know in advance.
Be sure to have a list of the nearest hospitals and emergency facilities in case you need them.
Reserve a wheelchair or other assistance to conserve your energy, especially at airports.
Certain cancers may increase the risk of blood clots forming while traveling. Take frequent walks around the cabin and perform sitting leg exercises to improve blood circulation. Drink water and avoid alcohol. Check with your doctor if you need additional oxygen to help with cabin air pressure.
Have a complete list of all medications, including dosages and any generic names (they may be listed under different trade names in other countries).
Travel with extra medication, supplies and additional signed prescriptions in case you lose or misplace them. Keep your medication in your carry-on bags and not in checked in luggage. Your doctor may recommend medication for motion sickness or traveler’s diarrhea.
Bring a doctor’s letter indicating your condition, treatment and medications. Always have it with you to show security in case you have devices or syringes and oxygen tanks.
You may require certain vaccinations depending on the country you are visiting. Check with your doctor to see if your system can handle them. For example, if you are receiving chemotherapy, your immune system may be weakened and won’t be able to handle the immunization.
Review your insurance coverage to ensure you have the appropriate medical coverage. Check what facilities your insurance covers and if you have medical evacuation coverage. Carry your insurance card at all times.
While undergoing treatment your skin may be sensitive to the sun. Use sunscreen and wear protective hats and clothing.
Cancer treatments will cause fatigue so be sure to pace yourself and rest frequently.
Seek emergency treatment if you have a fever, shortness of breath, vomiting or new pain and symptoms. Bring your health care providers contact information.
Questions For Your Doctor
If you have received a cancer diagnosis, you may have many questions for your health care providers. It’s important to seek out as much information as you can regarding your diagnosis. The information will help you make decisions about your treatment.
The best way to get answers is to have a list prepared before your appointments documented in a notebook. Leave room after each question so you can jot down the answer. Sometimes, the answers may cause you to think of new questions. Write them down immediately so you don’t forget. It may help to bring along a family member of a close friend to jot down the answers. Get clarification on spelling of unfamiliar words.
The following are some questions you may want to ask:
What causes this specific type of cancer and what are the risk factors?
Where did my cancer start?
Should I worry about other family members if genetics is a factor? Should they be tested?
Am I at a higher than average risk for this type of cancer?
What lifestyle changes should I adopt such as diet and exercise?
What treatment options are available and are there wait lists?
Are more tests required before treatment starts?
Should treatment start immediately or do I have time to think about it?
What are the side effects from my treatment and how can I manage them?
Are there any activities I should avoid and why?
Will new symptoms appear or existing ones get worse?
What medical tests or procedures should I be prepared for and how often?
What stage is my cancer at? Could it go into remission?
What is the survival rates and what are my chances of recovery?
What are the benefits and risks of my treatment plan and the expected results?
How will I know if treatment is working?
Are there alternative therapies?
Will my treatment be painful?
Will I require hospitalization and for how long?
Where will my tests and treatment plans take place and are there associated costs?
Can I bring a support person to my tests and treatments?
How long does it take to get test results and can I get a copy of the results?
When can I resume my normal activity?
Could my cancer spread?
Are there clinical trials available for my type of cancer and are there associated costs?
Who can I call with my questions after office hours?
Is surgery required?
Self Esteem and Body Image
While both cancer and its treatment may affect your appearance, how you react to it can make a world of difference with your self esteem. You may gain or lose weight, lose hair, develop rashes or have visible scars. These changes may get better and even disappear as time goes on.
These changes can deeply affect your self-esteem and how you feel about yourself and your body. You may want to isolate and not be around other people or avoid intimacy with your partner. The following tips will help you to work through your feelings and doubts about yourself and your body:
Adjusting to changes takes time so be sure to treat yourself with kindness, love and compassion.
Have conversations with close friends and family members or attend support groups with people in the same situation.
Focus on your healing by asking friends, neighbors and family to do some of your tasks. Hire a housekeeper, gardener or get prepared meals delivered.
Laughter is good for the soul. Watch comedy films or listen to audio comediens.
These tips may help with hair issues:
Try a short hair style or a complete shave
Use gentle shampoos and conditioners
Avoid irritating ingredients such as salicylic acid, menthol, camphor, eucalyptus, and henna
Avoid coloring, perms or straightening treatments until six months after treatment
Avoid hair dryers, curling irons and rollers
If receiving radiation, grow your hair long to help cover thinning spots
You may want to consider wearing a wig, hat, scarf or head covering. Scarves and hats offer many styling options.
Focus on your makeup and earrings
If you have gained weight from treatment, wear structured fabrics that create a shape. Avoid flimsy fabrics that just lay there. Wear fitted jackets with tucked in waist. Straight-leg jeans will give you a longer leg view. Wear darker colors and focus attention on your face with v-neck lines, scarves and jewelry.
If you have lost weight from treatment, wear close-fitting outfits in bold colors. Extra layers will help to fill out your shape. Wear long sleeves, turtlenecks and full-length pants.
If you have not had reconstructive surgery for mammograms, wear tops with ruffles and big pockets. Knit fabrics that stretch are good for a chest port as well as tops with shoulder pads or collars.
Cancer is a driver to really determine what’s important in your life and what gives you the most meaning. Now is the time to deepen relationships and move forward with a hopeful and positive embrace.
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