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Cancer--Living with Cancer


Learning to live with cancer

Cancer is a common disease. Almost 40 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetimes. Even though cancer may be life-threatening, many people have successful treatment. Others live with cancer for a very long time.

For most people with cancer, learning to live with the disease is one of the biggest challenges they've ever faced. That's because having cancer touches just about every part of your life and the lives of those around you.

Cancer and its treatment may change:

  • Your daily routines and ability to work
  • Your important relationships
  • The way you look, feel, and think about yourself

You may feel more in control and prepared to cope with these changes if you learn about what to expect. Your health care provider can help you find information and support services that are right for you.

Coping with feelings about having cancer

Having cancer may cause a range of strong emotions, such as sadness, anger, fear, worry, or guilt. These feelings are normal, and they're likely to change over time. It's helpful to sort out your feelings in a way that's comfortable for you. You might try:

  • Talking openly with someone you trust
  • Writing about your feelings
  • Using relaxation methods, such as meditation and other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)
  • Doing things you enjoy to give yourself a break from focusing on cancer

If your emotions seem to take over your life, tell your provider. You may need extra support if you have symptoms of depression, stress, anxiety, or panic disorder.

Communicating with your health care team

During cancer treatment, you usually have a team of providers. Along with doctors and nurses, you may be able to talk with social workers, pharmacists, dietitians, and other health professionals.

These professionals are prepared to help you deal with the issues that cancer brings up, including concerns about finances. But it's up to you to let your team know what's on your mind.

Good communication with your providers may help you feel more in control and satisfied with your care. Your communications may be better if you:

  • Tell your providers how much you want to know about your cancer and its treatment. Do you want all the details or just the big picture?
  • Write down your questions and concerns before your visits.
  • Bring a family member or a friend to your visits. This person can help by listening, taking notes, and asking questions.

Talking openly with family and friends

Cancer changes the daily routines and roles of the people who love and support you. They may need to start doing the things you've always done for them. And you may need their help doing things you've always done for yourself. These changes can be difficult for everyone.

It may help to have an honest talk about changing roles and needs. If that sounds too difficult, ask a social worker or other member of your care team to help you talk with family and friends who are helping with your care. These caregivers may need some support, too.

Dealing with changes in your self-image

Cancer and its treatment may cause some big changes in how you look, feel, and think about yourself. For example, you may have:

Coping with these changes can be hard. But most people find ways to feel more positive over time. If you feel well enough, you might try:

  • Exercise. Walking, yoga, or other movement may help you feel stronger and more in control of your body. But check with your provider first.
  • Staying involved in life and helping others. Think about volunteering, hobbies, or other activities that might make you feel good about yourself.
  • Counseling for sexual problems. Talking with a professional, either with a partner or on your own, may help.

Adjusting to life after treatment

After treatment, you'll have regular cancer follow-up care. Your provider will explain the schedule of checkups and tests you'll need. This is a good time to discuss the challenges you may face ahead. Knowing what to expect may help you make plans as you find a "new normal" with cancer as part of your life.

NIH: National Cancer Institute

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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.