Trauma is the result of experiencing an extreme fear and helplessness. Cancer causes trauma. Much like a person pointing a gun at you, hearing the words, “you have cancer” is a life threatening event. Except with cancer, the gun is never completely gone. Every doctor appointment, scan and treatment can re-traumatize us. It is imperative to find a therapist or cancer coach who specializes in cancer and trauma.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is the same for cancer patients as it is for victims of violence. You might find yourself reliving cancer events and just not able stop worrying about it. Your ability to concentrate or think clearly may be failing. Some people get high anxiety and others depression.
Telling yourself to be positive and wishing yourself better will not help. It takes more. You have to grow some coping skills. Studies on people who are resilient after tragedy all suggest the following:
- Get a support system. You need friends who will allow you to express your fears. Join our Face Book Group. Having others to accompany you to your appointments, give you rides during treatment, cook a meal or just keep you company will help you enormously. Get hugs four times a day. Now is the time to ask for help.
- Know who you really are. Resilient people understand that there is a separation between who they are at their core and the cause of their trauma. The stress/trauma might play a part in their story but it does not overtake their permanent identity. Think of yourself as a survivor, not a victim.
- Look at the big picture and practice acceptance. As hard as it is in the moment, it’s better to come to terms with the truth of the pain than to ignore it, repress it, or deny it. Acceptance is not about giving up and letting the stress take over, it’s about leaning in to experience the full range of emotions and trusting that we will bounce back.
- Consider all the possibilities and change perspectives. When stuck, train yourself to ask, “what are all the possibilities I can choose from?” in any situation. Again, look at the bigger picture and see all the parts like pieces of a puzzle. Flexibility is key to change.
- Count your blessings. Resilient people are grateful people. Not that you got cancer, but for all the other things that go right in life. Keep a gratitude journal daily of everything you are thankful for, no matter how small.
- Practice self-care. Now more than ever you need to love yourself. Have the message. Surround yourself with beautiful places or things. Read or watch something funny. Eat healthy. Take a bubble bath with candles. Get more genuine hugs. Do whatever helps you feel nurtured.
- Get out of your head. First acknowledge and put a name to the fear or sadness. Then go ahead and distract yourself when the worry is nonstop. Exercise, start a fundraiser or go back to #6 and do something to feel better. Volunteering is a favorite of cancer patients. Not only does it feel good to give back, but when you help others, you put your own problems in your back pocket for a while.
- Have goals and strategies to reach them. Resilient people take responsibility for what they want and keep moving forward. Don’t expect things to magically happen. They make “good enough” decisions, then write a list and attack it. If you want something you have to work for it, not wish for it.
Additional articles on Coping with Cancer
Coping with Cancer: 10 Steps
Adjustment to Cancer: Anxiety and Distress
Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment
A Neuroscience Researcher Reveals Four Rituals that will Make You Happier
VIDEO on cultivating gratitude
Written by Sharon Anderson MSW
Certified Cancer Coach & ULMS Survivor