Coping with Cancer

Just hearing the word “cancer” can cause stress. Whether you are a patient or a caregiver to someone with cancer, there are emotional aspects that affect you.
Just hearing the word “cancer” can cause stress. Whether you are a patient or a caregiver to someone with cancer, there are emotional aspects that affect you.


The person is said to be depressed when feelings of sadness and despair interfere with daily activities. In addition to sadness and despair, other symptoms may include:

* Loss of appetite or overeating
* Problems sleeping (not sleeping or oversleeping)
* Lack of energy
* Loss if interest in ordinary activities
* Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
* Irritability
* Excessive crying
* Aches and pains for no apparent reason
* Alcohol abuse
* Thoughts of suicide

What can be done to help?

The following are things you can do to help yourself or the person with cancer during depression:

* Avoid alcoholic beverages, as they have a depressive effect.
* Plan enjoyable activities with other people.
* Set reasonable and attainable goals.
* Encourage participation in a support group.
* Encourage prayer or other spiritual support.

Things to remember:

* Depression is common. You should not feel embarrassed to talk about your feelings. Everyone deals with the disease process differently, and a depressed person should not be ‘forced’ to talk about it if they are not ready to talk. Finding or creating a supportive atmosphere in which you or the person with cancer feels comfortable expressing feelings is an important way to open the door to talking.
* Finding someone who can just listen without giving advice or making judgments is essential, often times a person just wants and needs their deepest feelings to be heard and accepted. Sometimes they aren’t looking for an answer, just a chance to voice their feelings, their fears, their regrets, and their dreams.
* If the patient is depressed, just let them know you are here to listen. Let them know you care. Let them know that because they are depressed, voicing their feelings will not make you feel bad. Often the depressed patient feels they are a burden to their caregivers, and talking about their depression just adds to that burden.
* Take thoughts and discussion about suicide seriously. Your doctor and health care team can and should be involved in helping in such situations. There are also many community resources to help you deal with suicidal thinking, either your own or the patient’s.


Anxiety is a response to stressful situations. When people are diagnosed with cancer, they often are afraid, nervous and even feel overwhelmed. Sometimes they can’t even ‘define’ how they feel. Often there is the fear of medical procedures, the fear of being a burden and the fear of pain and discomfort. These feelings are not only real, they are normal.

Caregivers often feel this anxiety themselves. Whether it’s the fear of not being able to cope, or feeling that they can’t give the proper care and support to the patient.

Signs and symptoms of anxiety may include:

* Verbal expression of anxiety
* Verbal denial of obvious tension or anxiety
* Difficulty solving problems
* Feeling excitable
* Increased muscle tension (appears tense)
* Trembling and shaking
* Headaches
* Getting angry

If more than one of the above symptoms exist, call a doctor or other member of the health care team. You can also help by:

* Determine what thoughts are causing the anxiety.
* Talking to someone who has been through the situation causing the anxiety.
* Seek the help of a social worker, support group, chaplain or rabbi, or psychologist.
* Increase pleasant, distracting activities
* Increase companionship and time spent with friends and family who care.
* Relieve physical symptoms such as pain or other side effects
* Encourage relaxation techniques, such as medication, music therapy, mild exercise, etc.