How to cope

For some, a cancer recurrence can feel even worse than the first time, as they fear having to go through treatment once again. Counsellor Jaime Yeo from Parkway Cancer Centre offers some tips to help you cope.

Ground yourself

Receiving news of a cancer recurrence may be a distressing and destabilising event. In those initial moments, you may feel overwhelmed, which can make it hard to process the information properly.

If that happens, try doing some grounding (calming) exercises to help you manage the intense emotions:

  • Breathe deeply and slowly. Try inhaling for 4 seconds through your nose, holding your breath for 5 seconds, then exhaling for 6 seconds through your mouth; do this for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Sit comfortably on a chair with your feet on the ground. Close your eyes and notice what you are experiencing with your senses. How does the chair feel as you come into contact with it? How does your feet feel in contact with the floor?
  • Take a hot or cold drink and hold it in your hands. Notice what you feel as the cup is in contact with your hands. Take a sip, and notice once more what you are experiencing with each sip.

Acknowledge your emotions

Emotions can be painful, complicated, overwhelming, and difficult to make sense of, but being aware of them can help us understand ourselves better.

Instead of trying to block them out, take some time to sit down and feel those emotions. It’s okay to cry and grieve. Try to identify the exact emotions and give them labels (e.g. disappointed, frightened). Write down what you are feeling in a journal.

You can also ask yourself: Where and how in my body am I experiencing this emotion? (e.g. I am experiencing grief, it is like a heaviness in my chest that is expanding slowly). Tracking these sensations helps to regulate the body and emotions.

Understand your concerns

When you are feeling more emotionally regulated, take some time to understand what is contributing to those emotions.

What exactly about the cancer recurrence makes you unsettled? Is it about the treatment process, the effectiveness of treatment, the prognosis, your family, finances, or having to readjust your lifestyle?

Ask questions and stay informed

After understanding the exact causes of your distress, seek help and advice from others. Are your concerns rational or based on unfounded fear? Note down the questions you want to ask your doctor, and clarify any concerns you may have. Make plans to address these concerns.

Remember your resources

During this time, think of what had supported you through your past cancer experiences. It may be your faith, your family, friends, or new-found strengths and perspectives you had gained.

In times of uncertainty, anchor yourself in the values you hold close to your heart.

Reach out for support

You don’t have to go through this alone. Be open to receiving support from family, friends and other cancer patients and their families. Sometimes, it may be easier to explore your concerns and experiences with someone you don’t know personally, such as a professional counsellor.

Process your past experiences

For some patients, a recurrence can be a re-traumatising experience. You may not have fully processed the experiences and memories of your first brush with cancer because you had pushed them aside at that time. A recurrence may trigger unpleasant memories and cause distress and emotional disturbance.

If this happens, talk to a professional counsellor. Therapies such as eye movement desensitisation reprocessing (EMDR) can help address past traumas. Resolving unpleasant memories of the past can help you cope better with the present.

Be grateful for the present

Thinking too much about the past or worrying too much about the future may cause us to miss out on what we have in the present.

At times, it can be helpful to take life moment by moment, enjoying and being grateful for the little things we have right now. It may be the love of a family member, a comfortable home, or the fresh breath of air; it helps to practise daily gratitude by remembering something to be thankful for each day.

We cannot change the past or determine the future, but we don’t have to let that stop us from appreciating what we have in the present moment.



Tags: cancer counsellor, cancer relapse, cancer tips, managing emotions