Five Ways for Loved Ones of Cancer Patients to Cope Better
by Guest Writer Marcus Clarke, BSc, MSc.
When someone you love and care for, whether it be a family member or a friend, is diagnosed with cancer, it can be very difficult to accept the changes they go through. A cancer diagnosis is a life-changing experience that can leave you feeling anxious, stressed out and worried. Coping with such changes can be very difficult, and it can reach a point that you cannot control stress and succumb to depression. This article contains several ways that can help you cope better if you have a loved one who has just been diagnosed with cancer.
1. Relax and Stay Calm
If you can relax and stay calm, your loved one will remain calmer than if you actively show you are stressed out. Although you might become emotional sometimes, learning to relax will significantly help you to cope. You have to accept that you cannot control the situation, and the best thing you can do is to give hope and encouragement to your loved one. If your stress reflects onto your loved one, the stress can actually lead to a worsening of their physical symptoms. So it’s important to be positive as much as you can, to be calm and relaxed for your own good as well as your loved one.
Always focus on the facts and avoid living with the fear of losing your loved one. Try to be optimistic and believe that everything happens for a reason. Cancer is different from person to person, and is not necessarily a death sentence. Treatments are improving all the time over what they were years ago, and there are many things the cancer patient can do for themselves which will help to increase their survival time and even to be cured. It is thus imperative to stay positive and hope for the best.
3. Accompany Them to Doctor Appointments
Although you might feel emotional when you accompany your loved one to physician’s appointments, this is the best way you can help them cope better. This is important because your loved one needs support and might be overwhelmed by the medical tests and emotional upheaval due to these sudden changes in health and life. Offering support to them will help you understand their fear and help them overcome that fear.
4. Ask Questions
Do not be afraid to ask the doctor any question that is bugging you. If you think that you might forget the questions, write them down on a piece of paper. Asking questions helps you to be informed and understand the facts about the cancer that your loved one has been diagnosed with. You can even research about the type of cancer your loved one has so that you know more. Having a better understanding will help you manage your own stress and cope better.
5. Be Ready for Changes
Your loved one may be taking medications and/or chemotherapy or other treatments related to their cancer, and they can become stressed and moody. So be ready for mood swings, stress, and any discomfort that your loved one might go through. Support them as much as you can, talk to them openly and encourage them. This will help them cope with the diagnosis and treatments, and at the same time, you will come to terms with the fact that they have cancer and the best way to help is through offering support.
There are so many other ways that you can cope better, but the most important one is accepting that some events are out of your control. Try to get plenty of sleep, eat regularly and avoid drugs or alcohol. By doing this, you will have the courage to face the situation and be there for your loved one.
Marcus Clarke has a degree in psychology, a masters degree in health psychology and has worked within the NHS as well as private organisations. Marcus started psysci, a psychology and science blog in order to disseminate research into bitesize, meaningful and helpful resources that are interesting and insightful and often help people on the right track to improving their lives.
Thanks to Marcus for these helpful tips. GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right. You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.
Facing a life-altering surgery such as mastectomy is never going to be easy, let’s face it.
Regardless of your age, your breasts have been a big part of your sexual identity, nurtured your children, and/or given your partner much delight (and hopefully you as well). If you are facing mastectomy because of breast cancer, the thought of losing one or both breasts is no doubt a huge shock.
There are many resources out there for you to help you make your decision – and more than a few on this website – but the purpose of today’s article is to share with you the merits of having a “breast wake” should you decide to go forward with mastectomy.
What is a Breast Wake?
The traditional wake, held when someone died, involved family members or friends who stayed awake with the body of the deceased to watch or guard it and/or have a prayer vigil until it was time for the church funeral and/or burial.
According to Wikipedia, a wake is often a social rite which highlights the idea that the loss is one of a social group and affects that group as a whole.
Why should the loss of a breast be any different? I have a friend who held a wake for a much-beloved dog. I really think that this kind of loss should be noted, either before or after the event, but preferable before and here’s why.
Why Have A Breast Wake?
When you have gathered your family and friends together to mourn the loss of your breast(s), this is an exceptional time to ask each of them to help you with that process, in some small way while you are recovering and even possibly after treatments begin (if any).
Whether it be cooking you a healthy meal and bringing it over, or just taking out your garbage, or occasionally scrubbing the sink, you will be surprised to discover how many people actually want to help you and are willing to do just that. And you will need their help at some point, I promise you.
Mourning the loss of a breast doesn’t have to be a solemn occasion. Put someone else in charge of all of this – your best friend, for example – if you don’t feel up to it. Pull the carpets back and dance if you want to. Have some great, healthy food with your friends and family. Cry and laugh with them. Propose a toast to your breast(s) and have others do the same. Serve cupcakes that look like breasts.
Instead of having a guest book where people list their names, have a blank book for people to write in – a few of their favorite inspirational quotes (ask them to bring them along when you invite them) because at some point during this journey you will feel overwhelmed, scared and depressed. Having a book like this to delve into can help you through these difficult times.
With regard to the people who offer to help you, either you or a friend with good handwriting can write down the name and phone number of each person who offers help, along with what it was they offered to do. Don’t be afraid to call them either!
Please do mark the occasion because it will help you in so many ways. It will help your friends too.
If you would like to receive my best tips on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences, just sign up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right, and/or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com). I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.
I know this post is not strictly about breast cancer, but since most of us will have at least one encounter with an oncologist – and sometimes many encounters – I thought it might help to share a little about what they go through, professionally and personally, when they lose a patient. Indeed, oncologists probably suffer more patient losses than any other field of medicine, such is the nature of cancer.
Also, we are more than likely on this journey to encounter the death of a close personal friend or family member to cancer, so I have listed some books at the end of this article which may assist you with dealing with loss.
I believe that most of us tend to think that oncologists are somewhat unfeeling, that they go from patient to patient, making recommendations and doing their best to help them regain health, and that they have somehow found a way not to be affected by it all. Perhaps understanding the issues of grief and burnout can help us to be more compassionate with the way some oncologists and other health professionals behave.
I found this article to be vastly interesting and quite touching and it helped me to remember that oncologists are feeling people too. The article mentioned that more than half of oncologists and a third of trainees experience burnout and that the impact of patient loss on their lives was “a unique affective experience that had a smoke-like quality. Like smoke, this grief was intangible and invisible. Nonetheless, it was pervasive, sticking to the physicians’ clothes when they went home after work and slipping under the doors between patient rooms.“
Very eloquently stated, I don’t believe I’ve ever read such language in a research study.
One troubling thing I read, however, was that apparently many oncologists frequently failed to deal appropriately with grief after their patients died. One oncologist noted: “I’m up to the point where I probably lose one or two patients a week minimum … it’s a physical sensation of being ground away … it takes me a long time to recover from that.”
Grief Management Necessary For Residents, Oncologists It was proposed that education on how to manage grief, beginning during residency, would be one way to ease the negative impact of losing patients. “Ongoing study and development of optimized coping strategies for oncologists” is needed, they argued.
I know that for myself personally, having worked with people affected by cancer over the years – my mother, a close personal friend, and several of my subscribers – I had little to no experience of death or dying. It took me a long time to work through my grief surrounding their deaths, so I can only imagine what oncologists go through, losing so many people that they have cared for and cared about.
I would like to recommend several resources which helped me greatly:
These 3 books helped me to understand so much about the process of death, about grief, about living well and dying well.
If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters and e-book on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com). It is my honor and my goal to help you through this so that you emerge from breast cancer feeling better than before, thriving!
Going Through Treatments? How To Feel Better Fast.
One of the things I needed badly when going through breast cancer was a list of ways to feel better fast. Why a list?
Because when you’re going through the treatments for breast cancer, let’s face it – your brain is pretty fuzzy, you can’t think clearly (it’s commonly known as “chemobrain”). So I made a list of all of the things that made me feel better because, quite honestly, I couldn’t think of them when I needed them the most!
Making A “Feel Better” List
My “feel better” list included getting a massage, inhaling some of my favorite, healing essential oils, listening to particular CDs for their calming music, talking to my best friend, going for a walk, taking a nap, eating really healthy food (because that always makes you feel better), but most of all, meditation. Meditation was (and still is) the one thing that makes me feel better fast.
When you are putting together your “feel better” list, use a nice thick marker and print the feel better suggestions as clearly as possible. Post the list where you can see it – on the bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator door – don’t make yourself have to hunt for it because you won’t be in the mood.
Some Help From Author Paul Wilson: Instant Calm
In his book “Instant Calm”, author Paul Wilson discusses what he calls applied suggestion. He says that if you can tell you’re feeling lousy, especially if you say it a few times and persuasively enough, nothing can be surer than you’re going to feel lousy. “If you keep on telling yourself positive things, calming things, then you will achieve them… More powerful still is visual suggestion. If you can see these positive things… calming things… and you can see yourself participating in them, then you are certainly well down the track towards achieving them. “
Mr Wilson goes on to say that applied suggestion must be accepted by the subconscious to transform it into reality. That’s where meditation helps. To be accepted by the subconscious, your suggestion should be in harmony with your subconscious beliefs. To make it powerful, wording must be in the present tense, simple and positive (“More and more, I am discovering that I am feeling better, I am radiantly healthy.”).
Doing meditation regularly with affirmations (the applied suggestion mentioned by author Paul Wilson) is quite powerful. Repetition encourages a suggestion or affirmation into being.
For long-term affirmations and goals to be optimally effective, Mr Wilson advises to repeat your affirmation at least ten times per day to yourself. See my article Creating Positive Affirmations That Work for more information on how to create the most powerful positive affirmations.
When I was going through breast cancer, the one thing I couldn’t seem to find was a nice guided meditation for cancer patients that would lead me through some calming visualizations and help me to focus on getting healthier. Oh, there were all kinds of meditation CDs available and I tried most of them, but most of them seemed to have some fatal flaw, something that drove me crazy – either the background music was awful, or the person’s voice was annoying… so I recently decided to create my own how-to-meditate course, called Change Your Life Meditation Course. I created it just for you, click the link to find out more. I’d love to help you feel better fast.
If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters and e-book on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark Breast Health Coach). It is my honor and my goal to help you through this so that you emerge from breast cancer feeling better than before, thriving!
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net / Simon Howden
Strategies for Coping with the Anxiety of Living with a Serious Illness
Finding out you have a serious illness is devastating. It forces you to come to terms with your own mortality, and while you should keep fighting every day, it’s most certainly harder to relax and find happiness when you’re faced with that thought each and every day.
For many, this causes significant anxiety. Even if you’ve responded well to treatments, your life is undoubtedly going to change. It has to, because you’ve been faced with a life changing event that has changed the course of your life forever.
But that anxiety becomes a problem when it holds you back from finding happiness in life. There are going to be trials, and times when it’s difficult to think positively, but the more time you spend focused on the adversity and the risks ahead, the less time you spend living for yourself in a way that makes you happy. Everyone will someday have to face their own mortality, but until they do, everyone deserves to try to live a life that is free of regrets and filled with joy.
Stopping Anxiety in its Tracks
Of course, this is often easier said than done. There is certainly no denying that the never-ending doctor’s visits, treatment side effects, and physical aches and pains can make controlling anxiety more difficult. But there are still ways to help you cope with the stresses ahead of you so that you still wake up each day ready to enjoy life. Some of these include:
1. Goal Creation
The simple act of creating goals is extremely important for those living with a serious illness. You need to make sure that you’re always working for something, and that when you complete a goal you still have more to do. It’s good to be focused on the future and not feeling stuck.
Many of those with anxiety disorders (unrelated to serious illness) struggle with this as well. I certainly did. It caused me to spend each day focused on just getting through the day, and suddenly I woke up and a year had passed and I had accomplished nothing.
Even though serious illness can reduce some of your ability to meet some of these goals, there are always new goals you can try. Make sure you’re constantly working for something so that each day is one spent achieving something in the future.
2. Permanent Creative Outlets
What Ms. Clark is doing with this blog is also incredibly valuable. When you suffer from anxiety, you no doubt have all of these thoughts in your head that you can’t seem to release. Putting them all on paper and sharing them with others is the type of creative outlet that many people need to simply take those thoughts out of their head and share them with others, and the permanence of a blog or journal ensures that at any point you can go back, see what you were feeling, and see how you are now.
Those that don’t like to write can try art as well. But anything you can do that lets out your emotions in a healthy way is valuable, and will reduce some of the pressure that these thoughts have on you.
3. Fake It
It can be hard to feel optimistic when you are struggling with a serious diagnosis, even if you’ve managed to overcome it. When optimism fails, you try faking optimism.
We’re not talking about denial. Denial is never healthy. We’re just talking about pretending to be a person that isn’t affected by their diagnosis. Pretend to be someone with a positive outlook, even if it doesn’t come naturally.
One of the most interesting things about the human brain is that when it’s confused, it tries to adapt to being confused. By pretending to be positive, you’re confusing your brain, and often you’ll find that your mind turns you into a more positive person as a result in order to become less confused. It may sound silly, but it’s very effective, and absolutely worth a try for a few months.
Your Spirit and Anxiety
Still, in the end it’s not about the diagnosis. It’s about who you want to be and how you want to live your life. Your own willingness to recognize your anxiety and overcome it is going to be the key that moves you forward. If you show your own inner strength by dedicating your life to happiness and enjoying yourself, you’ll find that no diagnosis can truly hold you back.
About today’s Guest Writer: Ryan Rivera has worked with many people struggling with chronic illness, and provides anxiety recovery tips at www.calmclinic.com.
Thanks, Ryan! We appreciate your words of wisdom.
If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com). It is my honor to help you through this.
“There is an important difference between anxiety and fear. Anxiety is a general sense that something is wrong, which can lead to discomfort, restlessness, and worry, but which is not specific enough to point the way to any resolution of the problem. Fear is something more specific – you know what you are afraid of, and this tends to make the possibility of effective action to control or reduce the fear more real. One of the best means of treating anxiety is to convert it to fear, to change a general sense of discomfort to a fear of something in particular. Thus, a general sense of anxiety in relation to cancer or other illness is best addressed by seeking to define exactly what it is you are anxious about: the discomfort associated with the treatment, the possibility that the disease will spread, the threat of death. Each of these issues can be explored and addressed, which can reduce the discomfort they cause. The way to tame anxiety is to confront it directly. Ask rather than avoid.”
Learning The Language of Cancer
I believe Dr Spiegel gave excellent advice. A lot of the anxiety of a new diagnosis comes from, I believe, all the new language you have to learn about medical treatments, from those overwhelming discussions of survival chances based on this therapy or that, the side effects of this or that.
Here are a few tips to help you deal with anxiety and fear:
You must ask questions until you come to understand what is being recommended by your doctors and treatment providers. No one could absorb all of that information the first time around, so take notes. It is also good to have a friend or spouse with you – another set of ears listening is really important because I guarantee you, at some point you will be in overload mode and stop listening and possibly miss an important point.
Dr Spiegel also makes the point that as a newly diagnosed patient you must study for the role as though you were learning a new job. He suggests that doctors, nurses, social workers, and other patients can be your teachers.
I would add to that list of people/teachers: other breast cancer survivors, psychotherapists (to help you manage your stress levels), naturopaths or nutritionists, and massage therapists.
That’s the role of a good healing team – to help you manage your anxiety and fear, to provide you with excellent care, to answer all of your questions in ways that you are able to understand, and to refer you to other members on the team when it’s necessary.
Try not to stay in fear-mode for too long. Dr Spiegel’s advice to convert your anxiety to a specific fear and then tackle it by addressing each fear is a good one because if you are living in a state of fear you are not focusing on your healing and I believe that’s important to do, especially with a life-threatening disease like cancer. Don’t beat yourself up because you are experiencing fear and anxiety, but do your best to move through it so that you can start the healing process.
I send my love to everyone taking this journey right now. If you would like my help with getting through breast cancer in an inspiring and ultra-healthy way, please sign up for my free e-newsletters on the right, or “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) and I’ll do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.
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About Marnie Clark
Hi I'm Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor, and breast cancer coach. I have 20+ years of experience in natural medicine. In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.
I've been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!
Why should you work with me? Because:
(1) You don't want to go through this journey alone, feeling unempowered, frightened or just plain
clueless about what to do to help yourself.
(2) You will have someone working tirelessly on your behalf, putting together a healing plan for
you so you don’t have to lose your precious energy researching what food you should eat,
what supplements you should take, and what other things you can do that will give you the
best chances for survival. Instead you can spend that time resting, meditating, healing.
(3) You will learn what questions to ask your doctor (and have someone to turn to for the
questions they can't or won't answer).
(4) You will be armed with the tools and strategies you will need to get through the therapies you
choose so you can make your body hostile terrain for cancer.
You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.