You’re sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for your results. Nerves have taken over. Your hands are quivering. Your palms are sweaty. Your heart is racing. Then your doctor drops the bomb. “You have cancer.” It feels like the air has escaped the room. Your doctor keeps talking. You only hear one word, though. Cancer. Shock and disbelief ripple through your core. How did this occur? Thoughts flood your brain telling you it isn’t true. These reactions are normal. I understand because it happened to me too.
I found out I had cancer on a Thursday morning in October. WHAM! It felt like a gut punch without any warning.
“You have stage 4 cancer. This thing is aggressive, and we’re fast-tracking you. Let’s get you scheduled for chemo and radiation right away.” A split second passed before I completely numbed out. I didn’t hear or understand anything the doctor was saying.
Thankfully, my wonderful wife was sitting there with me. She heard everything loud and clear. Me? I’d checked out, vacating my mind and body. In retrospect, tuning out was a defense mechanism so I could handle the shock. Then the day arrived for my first chemo treatment. I realized, “Whoa, this is for real; I’m a living-with-cancer-patient!”
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a huge pivotal moment. With my diagnosis, I had no idea there are typical emotional stages people may go through. There are also psychological effects of cancer on the family, too. For today’s blog, I’m going to focus on the stages a patient might experience, along with emotional wellness tips.
Before Cancer: The “Blissfully Oblivious” Stage
In this stage, life is normal without significant health issues. You have a daily routine and typical everyday stress, which may include going to work, commuting, and juggling bills. At this point, your thoughts don’t include the word cancer.
Cancer Diagnosis: The “Emotional Overload” Stage
According to studies, the impact of a cancer diagnosis can include many emotions. You may feel overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, afraid, or even angry. Some people also experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For example, my emotions came on fast and furious. I felt extreme overload and numbness.
As my caregiver and patient advocate, my wife’s presence was crucial. She heard the medical information and the necessary next steps from the doctors. Having a system of support is vital during this process.
Are you newly diagnosed? If so, your oncology team prepares you for treatment with the necessary steps to take. You may also receive a pre-treatment self-care plan, although this depends on your doctors, clinic, and hospital.
Emotional Wellness Tip: Do it! Make use of all the help and resources available. There are integrative techniques like Reiki, healing touch, or meditation. If offered these, say, “YES!”
It’s okay if you don’t understand what these things are. Keep an open mind to try them because they can all be beneficial. If your provider doesn’t make a self-care plan available, contact a cancer support group in your area.
Cancer Treatment: The “Take Action” Stage
When my diagnosis had finally sunk in, I felt scared and uncertain, yet willing to be bold. I remember thinking, “I’m going to face this with 100% of my ability. Millions of other people do this. I can too.” At this point, I embraced a positive mindset about my diagnosis.
I decided to institute a program of self-care during cancer treatment. This included mindfulness, meditation, positive intention, gentle yoga, acupuncture, and gratitude. I even used a guided imagery meditation for chemo. These tools helped me immensely. I gained a sense of personal power during the treatment phase and maintained it.
How do you install a self-care plan during and after cancer treatment? Well, you face many decisions, and life-altering changes are happening fast. Use this time to choose resources, find coping strategies, and advocate for yourself. As mentioned earlier, a cancer diagnosis can bring a set of several emotional stages. Emotional intelligence strategies and skills are available to address these emotions.
A study on emotional intelligence documented: “In everyday life, people have the notion that acknowledging and dealing effectively with emotions contributes to their wellbeing. A meta-analysis by Schutte, Malouff, Thorsteinsson, Bhullar, and Rooke (2007) indicated that Emotional Intelligence is associated with better health.” 1
After Cancer: The “New Normal” Stage
Cancer became THE game-changer of my life. The window through which I view the world altered permanently. My daily routine, thoughts, behaviors, and perspectives wholly recalibrated. Today, I’m much more aware of having negatively-charged or “cancerous” thoughts. I use several strategies to release them quickly.
Self-care for cancer survivors is vital. It helps us to avoid getting dragged down into a rabbit hole of anxiety about cancer returning. The fear of recurrence is typical in cancer survivors. Fears get triggered before or during follow-up scans. Visits to the doctor or the anniversary of a cancer diagnosis can also trigger anxiety.
Expressing your concerns is more comfortable with support from friends, family, and other survivors. A helpful option is to record these feelings in a journal. Science-supported mood boosters such as meditation and mindfulness can help patients emotionally. And let’s not forget a gratitude practice and positive visualization, which aids in sustaining the post-cancer journey too.
Depression and anxiety can also occur in cancer survivors. It’s common for cancer survivors to experience feelings others don’t understand. If these feelings interfere with your quality of daily life, seek professional help. Many local cancer support organizations and hospitals offer support groups. Survivors who’ve been through similar circumstances attend these groups as well.
Emotional Wellness Tip: Self-care doesn’t have to be time-consuming or costly. It’s one of the essential practices we can use to regain a feeling of control. Try simple techniques like stretching, listening to music, drawing/coloring, journaling, or walking. Other beneficial activities include Yoga and Tai Chi. These are mindful movement exercises, which help develop emotional, mental, and physical resilience. Ultimately, you’ll regain a sense of power around your cancer journey experience.
Post-treatment self-care is also essential, physically, and mentally. There are further benefits of emotional care plans during survivorship. Become aware of the universal emotions cancer survivors experience.
Family, friends, and the patient may want to get back to a more normal life. Yet, the patient faces leaving the regular care of doctors and nurses who treated them. Feelings like grief, fear, and loneliness may surface.
Embracing a Positive Mindset
It’s important to note that every person diagnosed with cancer is different. Treatment needs tailoring to individual needs. Whatever you feel about your diagnosis, it’s okay. Allow yourself to acknowledge each emotion you have. Your feelings are valid.
You also deserve to be happy. Your body has incredible wisdom to heal itself. It starts with the mind. Emotional wellness is imperative during this process. Do whatever it takes to embrace a positive mindset.
Reflect on everything for which you’re thankful. Listen to a guided meditation. Watch funny shows and movies. When you feed your mind positivity, more positivity shows up in your life.