Any medical illness often brings with it an inherent component of distress and suffering, which need not be restricted to physical pain or discomfort, but also extending to an impact on the individual’s psychological well-being. This becomes more so in the case of an illness with a chronic or terminal nature, which involves an uncertainty, tedious medical investigations or procedures, longitudinal treatment, precautionary limitations, and at times an inevitable progressive deterioration. One of the first names which comes to the mind is usually of cancer, almost becoming a much-dreaded word!

The Experience of Cancer

Despite the tremendous advancements in the medical sciences, even today the word ‘cancer’ is associated with extreme distress, discomfort and anguish, for the patients, their families as well as caregivers. In itself, uncertainty becomes one of the most significant limitations in coping with cancer, leading to fears, worries and apprehensions in both the patients as well as their caregivers.

The Diagnosis: From the very start, even seeking an investigation for cancer instils fears and apprehensions of a positive result, leading to varied reactions questioning ‘why me?!’ And the questions unfortunately cannot be answered by anyone. In fact, such apprehensions often bring in a hesitation when seeking investigations for cancer as well.

The Treatment Process: In addition, the process from diagnosis until the treatment stages in itself is coupled with a multitude of challenges including financial, emotional, physical as well as psycho-social stressors. The most challenging part of this disease is the long and arduous treatment, which can go on from months to years.

The Caregiving: The psychological trauma of the illness can be manifested in the form of a caregiver burden. The caregivers tend to be burnt out or exhausted, especially when the focus typically tends to be on the patient with the medical diagnosis, and the needs of the caregivers often become invisible or neglected.

In fact, cancer could have an adverse impact on the individual’s interpersonal relationships, self-esteem and sense of self, body image, career, and daily lifestyle, thereby seeping into almost every sphere of the individual’s life, both for the patient as well as the caregivers involved.

Role of Psycho-oncology: How to Cope Effectively

Psychological support can play a huge positive role for patients suffering from cancer. Psycho-oncology is a growing field with increasing relevance as well. Supportive counseling for both the patient as well as the family members can help in the various transitions associated with the disease. There is no one generic way in which psychological help is provided to cancer patients who lose hope, however psychological counseling and psychotherapy is essential for cancer patients with a high risk of anxiety and depression. The following are some of the pointers which could be kept in mind to help in coping effectively:

Instilling a Positive Attitude: A positive attitude does not mean negating the fears, frustrations or distress that cancer may bring, but rather developing and utilizing effective coping mechanisms to cope with the psychological distress.

Strong Support System: Maintaining an open communication channel with friends and family, allowing oneself the space to feel emotions – both good and bad, can be extremely beneficial.

Active Engagement: It is also important to try to keep in touch with hobbies and trying to stick to a daily routine as much as possible and as far as health and treatment allow.

Acknowledge Feelings: Remember not to search for the answers to inevitable questions, but instead to be at least willing to acknowledge our own feelings, so as to be able to transform the negative energy of anger and hurt into more positive forms of acceptance and healing.

Ultimately, we need to reinforce the fact that our mind is a powerful determinant of our health. Dealing with bereavement is not necessarily our preferred choice, but it is an inherent part of life, and it is definitely our choice to decide how we wish to cope with it.

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