Expert Response: Healthy Control Now and Later

April 19, 2011 Cobie Whitten

In a recent post, "Tales of a cancer control freak," Marci McNaghten shared how her cancer diagnosis as a teenager led to extreme efforts to control her environment, her weight and her life - all while undergoing chemotherapy. Thank you Marci for your honest and moving account of a very challenging, frightening time. What Marci described is not unusual.

A diagnosis of cancer, especially when there seems to be no clear cause for the disease, can make you feel that you have no control in life at all. Concerns about what is happening to you, how your family will cope, how you will handle side effects of treatment and whether you will survive can be overwhelming. Ending treatment is unfortunately not the end of the challenge of cancer. Indeed, as Marci notes, while there may be initial relief that treatment is over, previously unacknowledged fearful feelings and anxiety may erupt at unexpected times.

In addition to the surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments, it is helpful to take proactive steps to lessen and/or prepare for the potential emotional consequences of cancer:

  • Find a health care provider who is knowledgeable about cancer and is someone you feel you can easily talk to about treatment and other concerns (e.g., anxiety, depression, sexuality, family issues, etc.)
  • Learn as much as you can about your cancer and the available treatments for it. Talk to experts, go online, read books. But make sure you seek information from reputable sources! See "4 pitfalls to avoid when researching on the internet."
  • Ask lots of questions – especially when you don’t understand what your doctor or nurse is trying to explain to you. Take a friend or loved one with you to appointments.
  • Look for psychological support, as Marci did. Experts such as psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers can meet with you one-on-one. And, for some people, support groups facilitated by a trained leader can be valuable.
  • Reduce stress whenever and however you can. There are many ways to do this -- whether it’s through eating better, exercising more, journaling, intimacy with a partner, learning to meditate or taking up yoga. Just breathing deeply and focusing on this moment is calming.
  • Take advantage of the survivorship services offered by Providence.
  • Know that you are not alone on this journey.
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