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A cancer diagnosis causes complex feelings. It is emotionally and physically draining and demanding for the patient to go through the treatment but I believe that cancer diagnosis affects not only the patient but it impacts the entire family. Life changing experiences like cancer can bring about feelings of helplessness, anxiety, depression , panic and distress which can be due reasons like the fear of the unknown, the dilemma of what to do , the financial burden , body image issues, impact on relationships  and also the disruption it causes in every aspect of life.
Therefore, it is very important to deal with the emotional turmoil that  a difficult diagnosis like cancer causes.

How to Cope with Cancer Mentally?

There is no simple answer to this question. The fear, the uncertainty both of cure and relapse and the stigma attached to this disease can impact the mental health of the patient.  Some of the ways to cope up with the psychological and the emotional impact of cancer can be the following:
1. Looking for answer to why it happened is a futile exercise.  instead learn to focus on how to deal with it.
2. While it’s very difficult to go through the treatment and it all seems like an uphill task it’s important to remember that to get better the only option is to go ahead with the treatment. The human mind is an amazing power house. It can be trained to meditate and focus.  You can inculcate relaxation techniques (listening to music, Colouring books, tending to plants, origami, and if body permits even dancing) . All this helps in stress management.
3.  Connect with support groups.
4.  Follow an exercise regimen. Exercises releases happy hormones which helps lift up spirits.
5. Seek counselling
6. Medication for anxiety / depression.

How can (and should) the immediate family of cancer patients cope with the situation?

Cancer family support

Caregiving responsibility is something which is rarely acknowledged since it’s seen by the society and the caregiver as a duty towards your loved one. Most caregivers put their own needs and feelings aside to focus on caring for the loved one with cancer. Cancer treatment is a long-term process therefore may get very demanding on caregiver.   The stress can affect them  physically and psychologically. Points for them to remember are:

  • If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of others.
  • Ask for help. Remember you are human too.
  •  let others help you! You can’t do everything by yourself.
  •  Make time for yourself
  •  Exercise/ meditate/ take up a hobby – anything that help you find your mental peace.
  • Seek counselling. Sharing and offloading your concerns can help you de stress.
  • Don’t feel guilty about taking some time off.
  • Create / find your own support system (support groups)
  • Remember you cannot control everything. Somethings are beyond control. Accept it
  • Plan for the future (especially when loved ones are terminal)
    ( Make memories that you can look back to and smile)

Covid and Cancer:

The present times are very stressful. The Pandemic has thrown life out of gear for the entire world. For cancer patients it’s been very tough. As they deal with cancer treatment, the fear of contracting COVID makes them more anxious. People undergoing cancer treatment are immuno- compromised and hence more susceptible to catching the infection. Because of the COVID outbreak many cancer surgeries have been delayed or postponed. Unfortunately, cancer never stops growing, so imagine the impact the delay in treatment has on the patients and the caregivers. In India, patients from rural areas travel to towns and cities for cancer treatment but with the lockdowns being put in place many patients could not travel to the place of treatment.

I know of patients who passed because of this!

Parting thoughts about cancer:

As a cancer survivor first and then a Palliative care counsellor, I have seen that there is lack of emotional support for the families affected by cancer. The treatment options have only gotten better, the expertise of the Oncologists is par excellence but if we do not provide emotional support to our patients and caregivers, we are unable to heal them in totality. Remember, cancer even when the intent is curative leaves scars both physically and emotionally! Hence, integration of counselling services, in the treatment plan should happen from the time of diagnosis!