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Psychological and Emotional Issues

Most people when diagnosed with cancer, experience a combination of new and confused emotions during what may be a highly stressful period. A diagnosis of cancer can also affect family members such as a spouse of children, who may often find dealing with the diagnosis even more stressful than the patients themselves. This can often add to the burden of anxiety and so is important to address and understand.

Cancer affects each individual and their family in different ways and often people need to find their own way of coping. The process of coping can often be one of trial and error, before finding what works best for you.

Following are a number of suggestions that may be useful to some people to help them cope with their experience of cancer.

Talk to others: Family, friends, your doctor, nurses, counsellors or religious leader.

Information Finding: Information about your illness and treatment and the help available will add to your understanding of what you are dealing with. Good sources of information are your treatment centre (Hospital etc.) or the Cancer Council help line, which is 131120 in NSW.

Support Groups: Joining a support group will allow you to meet with other people coping with their illness and can be a valuable source of support and helpful ideas. A list of contact groups and national centres is available on this web site.

There are also groups for carers. Contact the Carers Association on 1800 242 636.

Attitudes: Our thoughts and attitudes have a great impact on how we feel about things. We may not always be able to change the things that happen to us, but we can influence the impact they have on our lives. It is important to acknowledge the positive as well as negative aspects of a situation. Be realistic and try to avoid jumping to conclusions, talking to others may give you a different perspective on circumstances. Family and friends are often very upset and fear that their emotions may further exacerbate the situation. Try not to be afraid of your emotions and the emotional reactions of others, try to be available to talk about the issue with loved ones.

Listen to Others: Try to accept how your close family and friends are feeling, you don't have to solve their problems, just be there to listen. They may also be going through a tough time, so getting upset and crying are natural reactions. Not wanting to talk is also a normal reaction and may be a way of coping for some people. If you are particularly concerned with how someone is coping it may be useful to talk to someone to find out how best to help.

Routine: Many people find it beneficial to continue with life's daily routines. It is important to try to cheer yourselves up and take your mind off things. An outing or chat about future plans may provide some stress relief.

Manage Stress: Be aware of your stress levels and try to manage them. Signs of stress can include restlessness, fear, panic, racing thoughts, forgetfulness, muscle aches, irritability and a loss of enjoyment in various activities and life. There are many ideas and methods that can assist with relaxation, including breathing exercises or gentle activities such as yoga. Get to know your body and its normal reactions so that you can recognise the signs and symptoms of stress. Try to allow yourself regular time for relaxation so that it becomes part of your daily routine; stress relievers such as breathing exercises can be performed anywhere. These routines can be enjoyable and may have lasting effects throughout the day.

Find out what is best for you. Most people find that coping with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer is a difficult time. However, with time, most are able to cope and get on with their lives. Some people may need extra help, especially if there are other stresses in their lives. If you need further information or advice, talk to your treating team, the hospital Social worker or psychologist or your local or state Cancer Information Service, about what services might be helpful and available in your area.