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Learning to Live Well with Cancer

Learning to Live Well with Cancer

Written by SMH Oncology Clinical Counselor Elizabeth Bornstein

The American Cancer Society projects that 1.7 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the US this year—a staggering and heart-wrenching statistic. 

Here, at Sarasota Memorial Cancer Institute, we are on the frontlines of cancer care, and we know that getting a cancer diagnosis—hearing “you have cancer”—completely changes a patient’s life, as well as the lives of their loved ones.
The cancer journey is a rollercoaster, physically and emotionally. Regardless of the type of disease or treatment, most patients go through feelings of overwhelm, anxiety and depression, as well as frustration, hopelessness and fear of recurrence. Adjusting to the experience, at every stage, every up and down, can be beyond challenging.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network defines these reactions as “psychosocial distress,” one of the most common, yet frequently ignored side effects of cancer treatment. 

Learning to cope with cancer is a process. While the end goal is always remission or cure, patients and loved ones fare best when they find a way to live well in the day-to-day of the cancer journey, en route to achieving those outcomes.

It’s understandable that someone managing cancer might become immobilized by its heaviness and easily lose sight of the “CAN” in “cancer.” With the right support and resources, people CAN and DO live well with cancer.
And that’s what oncology counselors are here for: to talk patients and loved ones through the challenges, to identify solutions to problems and to work collaboratively with the medical care team so the patient is not carrying the burden on their own, all the while trying to heal.

For many, talking about issues like self-esteem, body image and sexuality, financial matters, or grief and fear of death feels too personal or uncomfortable. Others hold back for fear of being labeled as weak or negative. This is common and understandable. But something we hope all those managing cancer will embrace is the knowledge that self-care—emotional and physical—promotes healing. And healing is a process afforded to all of us, whether or not remission or cure is possible.

According to the American Cancer Society, 40 out of every 100 men and 38 out of 100 women in the US will develop cancer during their lifetime. If you are navigating your own cancer journey, consider these suggestions for effectively coping with the disease.

Key Steps to Coping with Cancer

  • Practice a daily self-care routine of good nutrition and hydration, adequate sleep, exercise (if OK with your healthcare team), mindfulness, relaxation and stress reduction.
  • Communicate openly with your healthcare team; keep a symptom log and take it, along with your questions, to your appointments.
  • Make time to share your feelings and needs with family, friends, coworkers and spiritual advisors. Set aside time, so you don’t have to talk about cancer all the time.
  • Connect with others who have had a similar experience for support and inspiration.
  • Find a licensed counselor who is knowledgeable about cancer issues and the mind-body connection and is someone you trust to help you.
  • Participate in cancer support and wellness programs to increase energy and decrease stress.
  • Ask your healthcare team and counselor about medications that can ease anxiety and depression, if needed.
Sarasota Memorial’s Oncology Counseling team

provides cancer patients and loved ones with emotional support and coping strategies, as well as help with problem-solving and identifying cancer-specific resources. To get support on your cancer journey, contact 941-917-7293

“With communication, comes understanding and clarity. With understanding, fear diminishes. In the absence of fear, hope emerges. And in the presence of hope, anything is possible.” ~ Ellen Stovall, past president, National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) 

Elizabeth Bornstein, MSSA, LCSW, OSW-C, is a licensed and oncology-certified clinical social worker, with advanced training in mind-body medicine and expressive arts, at the Sarasota Memorial Institute for Cancer Care. She has provided oncology counseling there for nearly two decades.
Posted: Jun 26, 2018,
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