Coping with a cancer diagnosis

27 August 2015


Have you just been diagnosed with cancer? It's probably the psychological aspects you’re struggling with most, says Evelyn Wallace, Cancer Care Operations Manager at AXA PPP.

'Patients experience a sense of shock and disbelief after diagnosis – they say it's unreal and feels like it's happening to someone else' says Evelyn. 'They often can't take in all the information they’re being given.’

'This initial stage usually passes after 48 hours though, and then patients move into practical mode. Their energy returns and they begin to see their life has been changed by cancer but it hasn't stopped.’

'Patients start to take decisions about their care and get on the conveyor belt of treatment. Some find the structure and routine reassuring – it normalises what they’re experiencing.'

What can help you cope?

Evelyn Wallace suggests that a number of psychological and self-help measures could benefit those diagnosed with cancer:

• 'Self-help measures include setting short term goals, for example scheduling outings or visits from friends on the last week in your chemotherapy cycle when you'll be feeling best.

• Exercise can really boost your sense of wellbeing – even if it’s just a walk around the park in the fresh air.

• Many patients feel lonely and isolated during treatment and find it helps to talk to friends or family and also others who are experiencing cancer too or who have come out the other side.

• Relaxation therapies such as yoga or massage can help you deal with stress and worries connected to your cancer.’

What’s available to you?

There are a number of services available for those dealing with cancer, from patients to family members or even friends:

• Support groups – Being around others on the same journey as you could be reassuring. There are a number of groups you can join, Macmillan support over 900 independent support groups around the UK.

• Online forums – Message boards can be a great tool for both patients and carers to connect with other people. Cancer Research UK and Macmillan both feature free forums to those who sign up.

• Complementary therapies – These are designed to boost your mental and physical wellbeing alongside cancer treatment. They include acupuncture, massage and relaxation techniques. Some cancer wards and units may offer these free of charge. You can find out more from your cancer nurse or doctor.

• Helper services – Having someone to help you run small errands or even just be there for a cup of tea could give you a lift during treatment. A Marie Curie helper may be available to you for around three hours a week, to give your carer a break. You can either talk to them on the phone or they can come to appointments with you.

• Childcare – Balancing parenting when you’re going through cancer can be difficult and there’s help for those who need it. Contact your local council’s ‘Family Information Service’ to find out what can be done to help you with childcare.

• Transport – Some transport services may be available to help you get to and from hospital for cancer appointments or treatments. Usually run by volunteers, these services can take the pressure off if you don’t have a friend or relative to drive you. Find out more from your cancer nurse or support group.

Does a positive attitude matter?

 'The most important message is that there's no ‘right’ way to deal with cancer psychologically' explains Evelyn Wallace. 'It's really about finding a way through -  finding a way to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and get on with it.’

'There's no reward for being positive all the time and just because you have a down day doesn't mean to say it will set you back. It's okay to be miserable and cry sometimes.'

Visit our Cancer Centre for more information.