Finding the tools to stay grounded during cancer and treatment
Your Emotional Well-being
The sheer impact of the word cancer carries many emotions, such as fear, shock and worry. There are times of waiting for further information and times when a patient and family must carefully but quickly weigh options. It can be challenging to make sense of all the information and put some order to it.
We sat down with Donna Murphy, LMSW, director of Patient and Family Support Services at the Rogel Cancer Center, to talk about the importance of emotional well-being during cancer treatment and where to turn to find it.
What are some of the concerns patients face when diagnosed with cancer?
Adults have many roles and responsibilities, such as parenting, work and relationships. They worry about changes in health and ability, and the idea of becoming less independent. Patients may have financial concerns, a need to stop work temporarily or permanently, no transportation to and from appointments, or side effects from treatments.
One of the most difficult challenges I hear patients talk about is living with the unknown. Very few cancer diagnoses follow a specific path. The experience and side effects of treatment are different based on the person.
Cancer is an abrupt change in the course of one’s life. Yet people are faced with responsibilities, big decisions and changes in their lifestyle. It is important for you to find what is right for you in managing this new information.
Why is it so important to stay on top of your emotional well-being during cancer treatment?
Grief, fear and worry are common emotions connected to cancer. People can also be hopeful and take on a positive outlook that might enhance healing. Maintaining a positive energy, both physically and emotionally, is one way to create a sense of control over something we can’t always see or feel.
Not all people are wired to feel optimistic in the face of difficult news; we often say that peoples’ way of managing a cancer diagnosis is similar to how they have managed other life challenges. It can help to have the support of those you trust and create ways to share your emotions.
It is important to care gently for yourself. Being able to ask for what you need from those you trust is key.
How can emotional distress hinder cancer treatment?
Distress responses release hormones that help us cope in the moment (the fight or flight response), but when repeated over the long term, they can be less beneficial to our bodies. If you find ways to help your emotions stay more stable (rather than sharp spikes of emotions) and increase the pleasure you experience, the body and mind will respond better.
What are some options for patients who are struggling with their emotions?
Certain lifestyle behaviors can be a good start, such as healthy eating, moving your body as much as possible, taking in nature or interacting with loved ones.
If an activity has brought you joy before, it may do so again. Some people find that their time in cancer treatment brings forth new forms of expression due to the life shift that happens when faced with a serious illness. Ideas to try include writing, breathing exercises, creating art, needlepoint, reading or gardening, to name a few.
At the Rogel Cancer Center, our Patient and Family Support Services are designed to reduce anxiety and worry, teach new ways of coping and provide a confidential outlet for feelings and emotions. Patients can try art therapy, music therapy or guided imagery, or talk about faith or spiritual needs. We can support those who need to speak to their children about a cancer diagnosis.
We also have clinical social workers and psychiatrists to help with exploring the deeper concerns when worries do not ease. Faith appears to be a framework for most people, either through a specific religion, spiritual practices or belief in a higher power that is bigger than themselves.
How can taking care of their emotional well‑being benefit patients in the long run?
There are many people on your treatment team who can help during your time as a cancer patient. Remind yourself of the things that are most important in your life, your unique values and qualities, and remember that you are never defined by an illness. You are also not defined by your worries or concerns.
Feelings that come with an illness might challenge your confidence, but illness doesn’t take away your competence as a parent, partner, worker, helper or friend. Moreover, you may find yourself feeling stronger, more resilient and wiser because of your diagnosis.
Continue reading the Spring, 2019 issue of Thrive