Actions People With Cancer Can Take To Join With Their Physicians In The Fight For Recovery

Bonnie Schuman
Last Modified: May 25, 1997

Make plans for the future.

You may find it helpful to set up short-term goals and long-range plans. If you aren't making plans for the future, you may be subconsciously believing that there is no future. Making plans in itself is a pleasant and positive experience. Why not enjoy yourself? Don't let family and friends abandon you.

Some of your friends and family may act differently toward you after the diagnosis. They need your help. Tell them openly how you want them to treat you. Most of them will respond as you want them to. Don't be a recluse. Some cancer patients find that they are being reclusive because they are ashamed to be out as they were before-and that makes no sense at all. So if you have stopped doing what you enjoyed before diagnosis, and you can still do it-start it again. Tell your friends what you are feeling. Ask them to help you to not be reclusive. Regain and maintain as much control of your life as is reasonable.

Many cancer patients must give up some control to health professionals, family and friends. And possibly so will you. But don't give up more than you want or need to. Make a list of the control you've lost, and decide what to take back. The less control you give up, the less unpleasant the reaction which may weaken the immune system. Evoke the Relaxation Response.

The Relaxation Response is the name used to describe a physical state arrived at by several methods described in many books. The Relaxation Response is important to cancer patients, because when that state is achieved, the immune system can be enhanced for a period of time. It is easy to do, takes very little time, has no unpleasant side effects, and almost always leaves you feeling more relaxed. Use hopeful words in relation to the illness.

To describe yourself as a victim, afflicted with a catastrophic, terminal or fatal disease, leaves little room for anything but despair. Don't use those words. Why not use more hopeful words? If you persuade yourself by the words you use that you are doomed, you may unconsciously give up.

Pursue happiness, avoid stress.

Sincere pleasant emotions may enhance and unpleasant emotions may suppress the power of the immune system, it seems wise to do as much as you reasonably can to maximize pleasant emotions and minimize unpleasant ones. Easy to say, but sometimes difficult to do. So if you have cancer, be consciously aware of how you react to life events and how and where you spend your time, and whether or not you are enjoying yourself as much as possible. Become partners with your physician.

Some patients want to hear nothing but instructions. Others want to be an integral part of the decision-making process. Most physicians want to act in any capacity that is in the best interests of their patient. So discuss the matter with your physician and decide what you both want the relationship to be. A strained relationship with your physician brings about unpleasant emotions for both of you. Be with other cancer patients.

Many cancer patients say that only another cancer patient knows and understands what having cancer feels like. For many cancer patients, being with people who "understand" leads to camaraderie and relieves tension-because you can't frighten them. If there is no Wellness Community or other cancer support group in your area, you might find other cancer patients by asking your physician, the American Cancer Society or other organizations which provide services to people with cancer. Do what you can to keep up hope.

Hopelessness is a most unpleasant emotion, and many cancer patients believe that there is no hope. That's just not true. There are millions of people in the world today for whom cancer is a memory. There is no type of cancer that does not have some recovery rate. Hope, therefore, is not only desirable, but in many situations quite reasonable. It is not necessary to give up intimacy and affection.

If both parties desire to maintain physical affection after the diagnosis, in most cases some adjustment can be made to accommodate that desire despite the psychological and physical problems. Once again, the solution is communication. Perhaps not easy, but where intimacy has been reduced or eliminated, if it's worth regaining, it's worth trying for.