Being informed that we have cancer is usually a huge shock that can leave the person who receives such news in a state of emotional disturbance. It is true that there is no protocol on what to do or how to act when faced with this type of situation, but experience shows that there are certain things that can be done to soften the impact of the news and take care of our physical and psychological well-being. Here are four ideas that can help us deal with such a process.
1) Reduce uncertainty about what is happening to us: Cancer is a disease caused by an abnormal growth of cells that can present itself in many ways. The relative severity of a 1 cm mass versus a 3 cm mass is different, it is also different depending on the place in our body where it is located, our state of health, previous pathologies, if there is metastasis, the tumor margins (outer edges) and the state of the lymph nodes closest to the tumor mass among other factors.
Each case of cancer is unique, as there are so many variables that can affect the process, and only a specialist in the field can explain with accuracy the state in which we find ourselves. Understanding these details about the is crucial, if we do not do so, we may overestimate the severity of our tumor, or even underestimate it. The role of the oncologist in this step is fundamental, he is the professional who will help us see what is happening to us and reduce uncertainties regarding our future. It is therefore very important to ask our doctor everything that is relevant to us, so he can help us manage our doubts and fears.
Some of the most common questions that arise at this time are related to the severity of the problem (especially with regard to cancer mortality), the possible physical and health consequences, the options for intervention and possible consequences, and ways in which the diagnosis could change the patient's personal and work life (whether it will make him/her unable to work or carry out some of the activities that he/she usually does on his/her own, etc.).
It is always good to remind ourselves that we have the right to ask about all these things, and no doctor will deny us this information if we ask for it. It is very advisable that we ask everything we want to know.
2) Keep an open line of contact: In line with what was mentioned above, many times the shock of the news does not make it easy for these doubts to during consultation, but rather they appear over time. It is also possible that as the treatment or the cancer progresses, new concerns arise that we did not have before. If we do not have a way of raising these doubts with our professional, it is very easy to fall into the temptation of ruminating on them (overthinking), catastrophizing about the possible answers to these questions, or looking for information on the Internet about what is happening to us (not a very advisable option, since we are not objective when we look for data about what is happening to us, we pay more attention to the most negative and extreme information due to our own biases.).
Insisting on the aforementioned, having a line of contact with our medical professional will help us avoid these strategies that will certainly increase our anxiety, as well as bringing a generally supportive figure during the course of the problem.
It is convenient to remember that doctors are professionals with a very heavy workload and the fact that they have not offered us a method of contact does not mean that they cannot give it to us if we require it, Even the best professional can forget to do so on a bad day!
3) Managing emotional discomfort: After a cancer diagnosis, it is normal to experience a wave of negative emotions, guilt, anger, sadness, anxiety, helplessness, and sometimes even embarrassment when it comes to telling others about it. All these emotions respond to a normal process of adaptation to a change of this magnitude.
The first thing to know is that we are not alone. Even if for some reason (such as living abroad) we cannot count on family and friends, there are always resources that we can turn to for support at times like this, and that will help us when we need it most. Support groups of health institutions, associations of cancer patients, but more importantly for this case we can always ask for the help of a mental health professional specialized in the subject. Managing this type of discomfort with help is always easier than suffering alone.
Often our initial instinct when suffering so many negative emotions is to avoid them by distracting ourselves and shutting down emotionally. Even if this is a strategy that can make us suffer less short term, it is not very advisable, since we only postpone the problem and when we eventually face it, it will hit us harder. Distancing ourselves from others and not doing the activities that we normally did due to apathy is something that sometimes happens in these situations but finding the strength to do these kinds of things is precisely the one thing what will help us to move forward with more energy. This is not a call to force yourself to do all kinds of activities and punish yourself if you do not manage, but rather it is an invitation to start understanding that if you feel low mobilizing is something that will always help you feel better.
4) Manage the anxiety of the process: Anxiety problems are attracted to uncertainty like a metal to a magnet, and unfortunately during the development of cancer there is a lot of uncertainty. The duration of the problem, of the treatment, the consequences they may have, and future relapses are unknowns that bring up mental scenarios that may or may not happen and that will surely take their toll on us. As a general attitude it is good to remember that what we think makes us feel certain things (for example, if I assume in the face of this uncertainty that my case will get inevitably worse, I will feel terribly distressed every time I think about it) and to remind ourselves that we do not know what is going to happen since I cannot see the future. The solution here is not to force ourselves to have positive thoughts, but to be pragmatic; we do not have a crystal ball to see what will happen, therefore it is better to face problems (e.g. possible relapses) if and when they occur, not before they appear.
Developing techniques to deal with negative thoughts and other manifestations of anxiety (panic attacks, apathy, fatigue, avoidance) may be a good idea. Techniques such as Mindfulness and meditation, relaxation, and cognitive exercises in which we learn to identify distorted thoughts are particularly useful for these situations. In this regard it is essential to highlight the figure of the psychologist as a resource that will help us achieve these goals and better manage the situation in general.
Cancer is an extraordinarily complex problem in terms of how to deal with it, but the fact that it affects so many people has generated a highly specialized body of professionals who focus on treating its physical and psychological aspects. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you are not alone, there are many people who can help you if you want and need it, lots of encouragement and we will be here if you decide to come to us.