Coping with Cancer Stress
Last updated: May 2023
I have read that some oncologists compare a cancer diagnosis to post-traumatic disorder (PTSD). When you get the news, it is common to feel grief. In my case, I had recently retired and was looking forward to traveling, so of course, I was disappointed and anxious.
David Spiegel, MD, a psychiatrist at Stanford University, said, "If you're not sometimes angry, fearful, or sad that you have cancer, then there really is something wrong with you."1 Thank you, Dr. Spiegel. I am sure I'm not the only one who needed to hear this.
The doctor also said, "Emotions are your friends, not your enemies, so see them as a signal that's there for a reason. Unresolved anger may make patients more likely to become self-destructive and abuse drugs and alcohol."1 Let's not do that!
Diagnosed with MDS
In 2017, I was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a rare blood cancer caused by bone marrow failure. Watch and Wait was my treatment for the first four years. I now have monthly complete blood counts (CBC) and take an injection when my hemoglobin is below ten.
People have told me that I look good, which is always lovely. I like a compliment as well as the next gal, but it is irritating when they act like they don't believe me or flippantly say, "Oh, I'm sure you will be okay."
Plan your day
One of my friends doesn't like to plan. She will call and say, "I can pick you up in a few minutes. Want to go to the farmers' market?" In my younger, healthier days, I would have said, "Sure!" However, one of my MDS symptoms is dizziness when I rush about.
We have to teach our friends how we want to be treated. Next time, call the night before, so I can plan enough time to get ready.
Tell them NO!
Some organizations and even churches will work you to death. (Oops! Poor choice of words, I know.) Do not worry that the club president or pastor will become upset with you for saying no. Instead, say, "I'm not feeling my best at this time, so I thought someone else could do a better job."
Here is an example: I told my Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) president that I needed a job to work from home. I can mail cards and make phone calls, but do not expect me to drive all over town for meetings I don't even want to attend. Set boundaries with people. No one can take advantage of you without your permission.
Plan for the worst.
Deal head-on with your stress. Yes, make plans to die. A few weeks after my diagnosis, I went to see my lawyer about updating my will. It is hard to talk about leaving the planet but do it anyway.
I even pre-ordered my tombstone. It is a pretty stone, but basic. This way, my relatives don't have to guess what I would have liked. I hope I won't need that tombstone for a long time.
I have set a goal to sell, donate or trash 4-5 items out of my house monthly so fewer items will need to be discarded after my death. Besides, I can make a few dollars this way and have enjoyed meeting people. For safety, I always meet in a public place. It's fun to see how excited some people are. One lady said, "My grandmother had a tablecloth just like this one!"
I also belong to a Facebook group called Buy Nothing; I take photos of the items I want to give away and offer them to group members. Another fun way to meet people as they pick up from my front porch.
Did you know your body can fight stress better when physically fit? Unfortunately, exercise has never been my strength. Years ago, I would sweat to the oldies with Richard Simmons. There is no way I could jump around like that today. So, I gave away my video on Buy Nothing. Sorry, Richard! I now participate in Tai Chi and Yoga.
Tips for Coping with Stress
- Self-care is not selfish. Be sure to eat healthy foods and get plenty of rest.
- Tell people what you need. For example, do you need help cleaning your home or help with yard work? Say no when someone asks too much of you.
- Keep active. Plan things you enjoy. I always feel better when I am looking forward to activities.
- Stay connected with your friends, and keep making new ones. Cancer can be very isolating.
- Learn about your disease. I cheer when I read about a new treatment coming out for MDS. Learning gives us hope.
Blood cancer is frightening, frustrating, and exhausting. So first, plan for the worst and pray for guidance. Then, do your best, and let God do the rest.
How do you feel about your support system?