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Published on March 09, 2018

worried woman

How do I cope?

Learning that you have cancer is life changing, and many people often need time to adjust to the news. Here are some ways to help you cope in the wake of a cancer diagnosis.

Taking in the news

At first, most people need some time to adjust to the fact that they have cancer. They need time to think about what's most important in their lives and get support from loved ones. For many, this is an emotionally hard time. Feelings such as disbelief, shock, fear and anger are all normal. These feelings use up a lot of mental energy. This can make it even harder to take in and understand all the medical information shared by your cancer care team. You'll likely need some time to absorb and understand what your diagnosis and treatment options mean for you and your loved ones.

Coping skills

People cope with cancer just like they cope with many other problems in life—each person does it in his or her own way. With time and practice, most people find ways to go on with their work, hobbies and social relationships. They find new or different ways to live their lives to the fullest.

As you look for a way of coping that works for you, you may want to try some of these ideas:

  • Learn as much as you can about your cancer and its treatment. Some people find that learning about their cancer and its treatment gives them a sense of control over what's happening. You cancer care team can answer any questions you may have. You may also find it helpful to visit Gundersen's patient education libraries in La Crosse and Onalaska for additional information.
  • Express your feelings. Some people find that giving some kind of outlet to their feelings helps. Many people feel that expressing sadness, fear or anger is a sign of weakness. In fact, the opposite is often true. It can be much harder to express powerful emotions than it is to try to hide them. Hiding your feelings can also make it harder to find good ways to deal with them. There are many ways to express your feelings. Find one that fits you. You might try to talk with trusted friends or relatives, or keep a private journal. Some people express their feelings through music, painting or drawing.
  • Take care of yourself. Take time to do something you enjoy every day. Cook your favorite meal, spend time with a friend or loved one, watch a movie, meditate, listen to your favorite music or do something else you really enjoy.
  • Exercise. If you feel up to it, and your doctor agrees that it's OK, start a mild exercise program such as walking, yoga, swimming or stretching. Exercise can help you feel better.
  • Reach out to others. There may be times when finding strength is hard and things feel overwhelming. It's very hard for any one person to handle having cancer all alone. You may find it helpful to try to widen your circle by reaching out to friends, family or support organizations, such as a support group at Gundersen. These people can help you feel less alone. They'll be there to share your fears, hopes and triumphs every step of the way.
  • Try to focus on what you can control, not what you can't. Finding ways to be hopeful can improve the quality of your life, but it won't determine whether you'll beat cancer. Despite what you may hear, people's attitudes don't cause or cure cancer. It's normal to feel sad, stressed or uncertain, and even to grieve over how your life has changed. When this happens, expressing those feelings can help you feel more in control rather than overwhelmed by your emotions. It also frees up energy for all the other things you need to handle.
Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System staff deliver great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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