It is devastating, and surreal, to be diagnosed with cancer. How do you deal with this information? Here are a few pointers…
Trying to cope with a crisis of this magnitude on your own will isolate you and almost certainly drive your stress levels up, which can adversely affect your health. Besides, your friends and family want to be there for you – shutting them out is the worst thing for all involved. Keep communication channels open: talk to them, share your fears, and allow them to do the same. If you struggle (and many do), counselling can be beneficial.
Arm yourself with info
Finding out all you can about your type of cancer
will stop your imagination from blowing things out of proportion, and will help you feel more in control.
If your doctor hasn't volunteered the information, ask him/her for the name of the cancer, its size, location and where it started. Find out about treatment options and their success rates.
There's a good chance you'll be feeling too overwhelmed take all this info in, though, so bring someone with you on whom you can rely to be your advocate.
Plan for changes
For example, if your treatment causes hair loss, make enquiries about a wigs or hairpieces, which can help you feel more comfortable in public. You may also decide to shave your hair off before it starts to fall out – consult your doctor about the best time to do this.
Become a health nut
may not cure your cancer, but it will certainly give you more energy and improve your body's ability to fight the disease. Regular exercise is also a good idea, but be sure to consult your doctor before making any major changes. A balanced diet (that includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables) and staying active will not only boost your physical health, but your emotional resilience as well.
Be open to help
Allow friends and family to run errands, help with transportation, do chores, cook meals etc. It can be surprisingly difficult, especially if you're not used to relying on others, but it is an important element of recovery to conserve your strength. Not only that – by allowing others to do things for you, you are helping them to feel less helpless, and allowing them to make a meaningful contribution to your recovery. If at any time your partner or family feels overwhelmed, encourage them to seek help to avoid caregiver burnout.
The prospect of battling cancer is daunting, so it's important to set achievable goals so that you are able to measure your progress. Whether it's getting enough sleep and exercise, eating more fruit and veg
, or letting the people in your life know how much you love and appreciate them, work towards manageable, positive change. Keeping a journal can help to give a sense of achievement – down the line you will be able to see how well you coped (even when you thought you weren't) and how far you've come.
Join a support group
It's easy to feel that even those closest to you don't really understand what you're going through, and this is where a support group comes in. Other cancer survivors can validate your experiences, help you to realise that everything you're experiencing – from fear to sadness, anger and even numbness – is normal, and provide valuable insight.
Ask your doctor about support groups in your area or contact the Cancer Association of South Africa
to find a support group near you on 0800 22 66 22 or email@example.com