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You Are Not Alone A Practical Guide for Maintaining Your Quality of Life While Living with Cancer You're Not Alone

Coping - III. Psychological And Emotional Support


Attitudes That Can Help


Positive Thinking
Support Groups
Realistic, Achievable Goals

Spirituality, Faith and Religion

End-of-Life Care

Leaving Instructions to Loved Ones

Fifty years ago, there was little discussion on how to cope . Patients just dealt with their problems - feeling isolated and distressed. Now the concept of patients developing coping skills has received considerable attention from healthcare professionals. Even the Federal government became involved and, in 1980, the National Cancer Institute published Coping with Cancer. In the 1990s, over 2,500 articles on some aspect of coping with cancer appeared in medical and mental health journals.

Coping refers to the attitudes you develop and the actions you take to maintain your equilibrium and adjust to the stresses caused by cancer. Different people cope in different ways. It is normal to feel frustrated at times, but how you cope, and your attitude can make a difference. By externalizing your frustrations, you can improve your quality of life. Of course, the nature of your psychological and emotional needs will change as you proceed from your initial diagnosis through cancer therapy. At the time of diagnosis, it is common to feel stunned. In an instant, your life has changed forever, no matter what the outcome of treatment. This may very well be one of the most difficult periods in dealing with your cancer - a time of shock, fear, and disbelief accompanied (in some people) by a feeling that cancer is a retribution for some previous misdeed. Of course, you wonder whether you'll survive and, if you do not survive, what the end will be like.

Other more immediate concerns may touch on whether you will be able to return to work or can meet your daily living expenses. You may worry about whether you have sufficient medical coverage or how your financial situation will be affected. What compromises will you need to make to maintain your quality of life? How will your family members be affected by the stress of living with you during your treatments? How will you and your family deal with the possibilities if there is no cure?

These are very common concerns and you can benefit from talking about them and seeking help. Fortunately, any number of people can serve as your sounding board. These can include a social worker, psychiatrist, or psychologist, a clergy person, a sex therapist, a friend, another cancer patient or a support group. You may very well need to discuss your concerns, with more than one of these trained persons.

One of the greatest services these people can render is to help you accept your cancer and at the same time allow you to realize that you are in charge. You can choose your medical team, accept or reject their recommendations, seek second or third opinions, and most important, determine how your family, friends, and colleagues will behave toward you. If you are able to discuss your disease and medical therapy, you will find that you have inner strength to help fight your disease and maintain your quality of life.

In essence, your relationships need not change. You can have the same give-and-take dynamic with family and friends that sustained you in the past. The exchange of love and support will improve your ability to fight for your life. You don't have to try to cope alone. You might even derive an inner strength from your understanding and support that can enable you to help others find solutions to their problems. Feeling good about yourself will help you cope better.

Some ways of coping that you may find helpful are:
- Relying on others for support and assistance

- Sharing your feelings with others

- Seeking professional counseling

- Keeping a journal

- Setting realistic goals and readjusting them when necessary

- Controlling fear and anxiety with stress reduction techniques

- Adopting a mantra, or a reassuring phrase

- Giving yourself time to adjust to and recover from bad news

- Accepting your limitations (both physical and emotional)

- Recognizing that you still have control over many aspects of your life

- Avoiding procrastination

- Moving on from mistakes rather than letting them debilitate or destroy you

- Alleviating day-to-day stress

- Helping a friend

- Being compassionate and understanding towards yourself

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