Cancer is one of the most prevalent diseases worldwide, and it is reported that there are over 4,500 cases of cancer in the UAE every year. There’s ongoing awareness around the disease, and many of us will know someone who has had cancer, yet receiving a cancer diagnosis of your own can be devastating. In many cases, cancer doesn’t simply affect your physical health, but can also impact your emotional and mental health.
For some, tackling the emotional and mental impact of cancer requires more time and support than the physical effects of the disease and its treatment. Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s Director of Medical and Oncology Services, Zeina Kassem, shares some practical advice to help you handle the emotional and mental effects of a cancer diagnosis:
- Build a support network: Who you tell, what you tell them and when you tell them is entirely up to you, but talking to others can be beneficial following your diagnosis and throughout your treatment.
You may choose to process the diagnosis by yourself initially before opening up, or to discuss with a close family member or friend immediately. There is no right or wrong, you should just do what feels right for you. It can be useful to reach out to different people too – family, friends, work colleagues or neighbors, each may play a different role in supporting you and your emotional needs.
- Seek professional advice: Your medical team is likely to include counselors or mental healthcare professionals who are experienced in dealing with the feelings, emotions or concerns that you may experience. Anxiety and depression aren’t uncommon among cancer patients and these professionals have the knowledge and expertise to identify, manage and treat them.
- Talk to other cancer patients or survivors: Chatting with people who are going through, or have been through cancer can provide you with reassurance, comfort and even a sense of normality. There are many ways to find this kind of support; online through social media groups or through organized groups in the local community. You can also speak to your caregiver team if you would like to be put in touch with other cancer patients or survivors.
- Get informed: When you first receive your diagnosis, you may be struck by several emotions – anger, fear, sadness, guilt – all at the same time, so it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You may also find that very little of what the doctor tells you actually sinks in. Tackle this by seeking out information about your cancer, it will provide you with something to focus on, and can help to counter that sense of being overwhelmed. Plan out questions you want to ask your doctor for the next meeting, and as you become more informed, you may also feel more in control of what’s happening in your life.
- Reduce your stress levels: Stress can be counter-productive to the healing process, so look for any ways to cut back on the everyday stresses in your life. This could mean asking family or friends to prepare meals for you or your family, or to help out with other household tasks like laundry. If you’re still juggling work too, consider a sabbatical from your job.
- Spend time on things you enjoy: Cancer and its treatment can feel all-consuming at times, which is why it’s important to make time for activities, hobbies and people that lift your mood and give you something else to focus on.
- Stay active: Gentle exercise like walking or yoga can aid relaxation and provide a means to expel some of the negative energy or feelings you may be experiencing.
Advice for friends & family
The emotional impact of cancer is also felt among family members and close friends, who may struggle with their own feelings and response to the diagnosis. They may try to conceal their emotions in order to shield you from any further stress.
Family and friends can need similar advice to those with cancer, talking to other family members, close friends and professional counselors. Where possible, it can help to process feelings around the diagnosis before seeing you. For younger family members, it is a good idea to inform their school and see what support they can offer.