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How do I cope with cancer? A Guide for Patients, Family and Friends

Updated: Feb 3


Introduction Receiving a cancer diagnosis is obviously a life-altering event that brings a wave of emotions, fears and uncertainties for not just the patient but their friends, families and colleagues too. Coping with any illness requires a delicate balance of emotional strength, practical strategies and mindful approaches. I have been asked to share how we can mindfully deal with having cancer as a patient, as well as how family and friends can offer support while managing their own emotions and wellbeing but these strategies can be applied to any illness.

  1. Embracing Mindfulness

Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment without judgment. For patients, mindfulness can help manage anxiety and depression. The reason that this can help is because rather than trying to bury fears and emotions around the diagnosis, mindfulness encourages us to examine them and address the thoughts and feelings that we are having with no judgement of ourselves, of the illness and of the prognosis. It helps to to come to terms with the reality of the situation so that we can choose how we want to proceed. For family and friends, it can help to do the same and can support us while we in turn provide compassionate support. Making use of mindfulness practices such as meditation,breath work, journaling and yoga or Tai Chi can help us to manage our minds and to allow the emotions to flow through and out of our body so that we are not holding onto the stress and negativity. Instead we are proactively transforming it into something positive that we can use to support us. Exercise to support our physical wellbeing and good coping strategies that promote a positive mindset can help us to support our body's natural healing process. We can also use aids such as visualisation, good diet and a pleasing environment to help us to keep our energy high and our thought focused on being healthy instead of worrying about being ill.

Managing Fear of Death

The fear of death is a natural response to a cancer diagnosis. In fact lots of people live with an overwhelming fear of death for most of their lives. To address this fear mindfully, it first needs to be acknowledged by the patient and those around them so that it can be discussed either with each other or with a professional. Focusing on the present and what you all have right now, today and being grateful for all that you share with each other can also be very powerful. None of us know the future and worrying about what might be only takes away our peace of mind from today, it also causes us to release stress hormones which Do NOT support the healing process and our negative emotions cause our vibration to lower which means that we are attracting more negativity to us which is something that we most definitely do not want.

Navigating Emotions

Cancer brings a whirlwind of emotions including anger, sadness and frustration. Our emotions are signposts that show us where our thoughts and beliefs are not working for us. For most of us, our suffering is caused because we don't think something should be happening or because we think it's not fair. The honest and painful truth is that it doesn't really matter what we think, it is happening and no matter how we try to fight it or get other people to agree with us that it is wrong, sooner or later, we are going to have to deal with it. So we need to find ways to try to accept what is happening so that we can think clearly and look for ways to prepare ourselves or find solutions to the situations that we are facing.

Journaling can be really useful for this. There's no right or wrong way to do it. You can use a pretty notebook, a device or even a chalkboard or sheet of paper. You can write in sentences, as bullet points or in a spider diagram. It's not important how you do it, it just has to be comfortable for you. What is important is that you get the thoughts that are banging around in your head like a pinball, out of your head so that you can firstly, create some space to think and secondly, start to make sense of your thoughts. In going through this process, we often find that solutions appear or emotions begin to resolve themselves because we have become mindful and present and gained some perspective and clarity.Family and friends can support the patient - horrible word that but I can't think of another one to use by offering a non-judgmental space for them to share their emotions honestly and freely, actively listening and allowing the other person to be fully heard without offering solutions unless requested.

Caring for Caregivers

Family and friends are often caregivers during the cancer journey. So it's absolutely crucial for caregivers to prioritise self-care and set boundaries to prevent burnout. Mindful practices such as taking short breaks, using support groups, spending fun time with friends and family and keeping up their hobbies and interests can really help everyone to cope better. Happy, well balanced carers can help to better support the patient and as we rarely know the outcome or how long we may be required as a carer, it is vitally important that we still live our lives to the full and practise gratitude for all that we have. Cancer can be overwhelming for everyone and stress management is essential. Patients can incorporate relaxation techniques like body scans or guided meditations into their routines. For family and friends, practicing compassionate communication, providing practical assistance and remaining present in their own lives without feeling guilty can reduce their own stress while supporting the patient.I l also feel that it's very important that you tell people how much you love and value them, that you appreciate having them in your life and are grateful for having the pleasure of sharing your life with them. I speak to so many people who were too embarrassed to say the things that mattered to them when they could and really regret it when it's too late.

Maintaining Wellbeing

Patients should try to stay active and do the things that they love as much as possible. What's the point in being alive if you aren't living? It also helps to keep them focused on what they can do and gives them a sense of control. This could include: hobbies, spending time with loved ones or maybe joining support groups. It may even be a good reason to resolve any conflicts and do the things that they have always wanted to do but kept putting off, and yes, I am talking about a bucket list. Family and friends can help to arrange these activities and if welcome, go along to share the experience.

Effective Communication

Clear and compassionate communication is crucial. Patients should feel that they can express their needs, fears and desires openly with the people around them with out fear of judgement or the people that they are talking to taking it on as there own and making the conversation all about them. This is not your time. If you are struggling, please get help elsewhere but do not make the patient responsible for your wellbeing. I'm sure they have enough to think about already.

Seeking Professional Help

Cancer can trigger complex emotions and challenges that may require professional assistance. Both patients and their loved ones should consider coaching or counselling as a valuable way to obtain support to navigate their emotions and develop coping strategies. Asking for help should never be seen as a weakness or failure. It takes great courage and strength to recognise when we need a little help and to ask for that help is the most empowering thing that you can do for yourself and for those around you.

Conclusion I guess to sum things up, what I would like you to take away from this is that dealing with cancer mindfully involves finding a balance between the emotional, physical and practical aspects of the experience. By embracing mindfulness, practising effective communication, seeking professional help if needed and developing the right mindset, we can improve outcomes, and this experience can become an opportunity for growth, resilience, compassion and shared connection.



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