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Living Easing Your Mind as a Cancer Survivor

separator There are about 9 million cancer survivors in the U.S. today.
  • About 59 percent of them are older than 65.
  • 3 million of them received a diagnosis of cancer between 5 and 15 years ago.
  • 23 percent of them are breast cancer survivors.
  • 17 percent of them are prostate cancer survivors.
  • Researchers believe that about 60 percent of the people who become cancer survivors today can expect to be alive five years from now.
  • About 75 percent of children who get cancer today can expect to be alive in 5 years.

In other words, our world is full of cancer survivors.

Most of us live our day-to-day lives knowing that death can come at any moment, but we tend to keep that knowledge in the back of our minds. When you get cancer, the notion of mortality becomes much more real. For many people, it changes everything.

When you’re diagnosed with cancer, your treatment regimen gives you a sense of purpose. There are clear goals to work toward—recovering from surgery, getting through your radiation or chemotherapy treatments, if you have them, building your strength back. But when the treatment is over, it’s normal and common to feel lost, confused, scared, maybe depressed

In the book “It Is Not About The Bike,” champion cyclist Lance Armstrong says that he had a “classic case of ‘now what’ ” after he had finished with his cancer treatment. That’s normal—and not just for Lance Armstrong.

There’s so much to deal with when you’ve had cancer—changes in your body, more frequent (and possibly more nerve-wracking) medical appointments, changes in your relationships, your work life, etc. We can’t possibly cover in one article everything there is to being a cancer survivor, but maybe the best place to start is with your mind. Because if you can start to feel better in your head, it’s going to be easier to manage all the other things that you have to deal with.

How to ease your mind
A large part of being a survivor is learning to deal with uncertainty. Questions such as:

  • Will my cancer come back?
  • If it does, how serious will it be?
  • How will I deal with my job and family responsibilities when I still feel weak and tired?
  • It seems like everything is so stressful now, and part of getting well is learning how to handle stress. How do I keep myself from getting too stressed out now?
  • I feel very down and sad. How can I go on like this?

Here are some things that have helped people manage these kinds of fears. But remember, everybody is different, so choose the options that seem to be a good fit with your personality and preferences.

Joining a cancer support group. How does this help?

  • It puts you in touch with people who “have been there,” and can tell you what their experiences have been.
  • It allows you to share your own feelings with people who understand. Expressing your emotions with others is one way to help you feel better and ease your concerns. And being in a cancer support group can help you feel less alone.
  • Some support groups include members of a cancer patient’s family. If you feel as though it might be beneficial for you and your family to talk about your cancer together, then this kind of support group might be for you.
  • It helps you learn how to handle all the practical issues that are part of being a cancer survivor.

Being physically active. How does this help?

  • Studies have shown that regular physical activity can help reduce stress.
  • Some people find that being physically active, even when they’re feeling tired, actually gives them more energy
  • Physical activity is good for your body, and it’s especially nice for cancer survivors to participate in something that can help improve their body image.

Talking with a mental health professional. How does this help?

  • According to the American Cancer Society, one in four cancer survivors struggles with feelings of depression. If you are one of those, getting treatment from a professional is the best way to help you get better faster.
  • Even if you don’t have specific depression, it could be that support groups are not for you. In this case, meeting with a counselor to talk about how cancer has affected your life may be very beneficial.

Learning techniques that help you handle stress, such as meditation, breathing exercises, biofeedback, connecting or reconnecting with you religious or spiritual beliefs, etc. How can this help?

  • Many people find these kinds of activities soothing and relaxing, because they help you to focus on something “bigger than yourself” rather than on your cancer.
  • It can be helpful to get back to basics and focus on what your essential belief system is, which can be a significant source of meaning and guidance for you as you face all of life’s challenges, not just cancer.

American Cancer Society; National Cancer Institute; L. Armstrong. It Is Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. Putnam, 2000.
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