5 Points for coping through treatment

Feel - Article 03

Receiving your cancer treatment plan will often come as a big relief. However, treatment brings with it new challenges, not least a substantial physical impact. In fact, for some people the sheer impact of treatment is stronger and more obvious than the first signs of cancer.

Here are a few tips that can help to guide you through the process:

1. Good coping is flexible coping

Having bad days during treatment, physically and emotionally, is to be expected. Even with good support and preventative medication, they may not be avoided.

When a bad day comes, the key is how you respond to it. Will you to push back, push yourself and try to resist? Or will you acknowledge it, ask for help and do as best as you can to soothe and comfort yourself?

Unsurprisingly, a combination of the two is recommended: fight hard and fight smart, sometimes push, sometimes flow. Accepting some downtime when it’s needed is just as healthy as pushing, urging yourself on when that is the useful thing to do. And as always, if you need some help to find the right strategy for the right time, speak to us.

2. Self-soothing

When you are having a tough time, and you decide it’s best to let it pass, it’s helpful to take a wide view on what might help you through. People sometimes talk about distraction, as if the objective is to forget it’s happening – it’s better to think of it as ‘directing your mind away’ from the experience that is difficult (e.g. side-effects, or emotions) by focusing on a vivid experience that is more neutral, or even enjoyable.

More broadly, think about self-soothing: what can you be doing that is comforting, that engages your mind and body in a calming way? Think about what and who got you through childhood illness, what memories you have of days where sickness was made easier with care, comfort, kind attention or an invigorating distraction? Your body will have some memories of that, so how could you reactivate them? There are lists and lists of things that others suggest, but the key to self-soothing is figuring out what works for you?

It’s a good idea to be ready with this, before you need it. Our programme explores relaxation skills, to practice when you’re well, so that it’s much easier when you’re not.

3. When the system isn’t working

We really hope that every part of your cancer healthcare is done with kindness, efficiency and expertise. Yet, it’s a hugely complicated system, and it’s not surprising when people find some of their experiences baffling, worrying or frustrating, and a source of great emotional distress, sometimes more than the cancer itself. This could be the strained communication with a professional, failures in practical coordination, a small error (that makes you worry if a bigger one will happen), seemingly strange hospital rules and limitations, all sorts of things.

It can be deeply unsettling to depend so much on an imperfect system, and not really wanting to be critical or seen as ungrateful.  If it really bothers you, don’t sit on it, but instead address it constructively. Prepare carefully, untangle the emotion from the practicalities, pick your time, and be strategic with your communication. More often than not, you can improve things for yourself by engaging proactively when there are problems.

4. Know your softs spots, part 2

Cancer will put a strain on whatever wasn’t quite in balance before. With the physical burden of treatment, you may feel vulnerable, not in control, alone or uncared for. These can be real and present challenges with the additional ‘weight’ of being linked to past issues and vulnerabilities.

It can be helpful to notice and acknowledge these feelings. Ask yourself: can I put that aside for now? How might it affect me? And most importantly, what additional help and support do I need? Talk to your clinical team and your Onko coach, and find out the process for getting that support.

5. It will pass

It’s worth repeating this. Whether your cancer is treatable, curable, big or small, we promise the worst moments emotionally will pass. People can, and do, adapt.

Plenty of research and patient experience tells us this; and if you look carefully enough at your own story, you will find other times where you adapted and changed and difficult things passed. Now, once you get more familiar with your treatment, the places and the people, the level of threat and uncertainty will reduce.

As you process the emotions a bit at a time, with kindness to yourself, they will settle. When you are right at the start, of course, you may not entirely believe or trust this, but try to hold onto this idea.