Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be equally as detrimental to the psyche as cancer is itself to the body. It is very difficult to accept the fact that you are literally fighting for your life everyday, which is why anxiety and depression are common among cancer patients.
A positive attitude can improve your physical health immensely.
It is certainly not easy to maintain a smile and positive outlook while facing the reality of your illness and enduring the adverse side effects of chemotherapy.
Having gone through cancer treatment myself for Hodgkin's Lymphoma, here are 15 ways to boost your mental well-being:
1. Talk to someone
Cancer treatment can be a very lonely experience so I urge you to constantly talk through your feelings. Family and friends are a great resource but if you want to talk to someone more relatable, search for cancer groups in your local community. Several hospitals offer activities/youth groups for cancer patients. Online blogging and pen pals are also great alternatives.
2. Stay active
Your definition of “active” will change during treatment. There will be days you can go for a 10k run and other days when you are too tired to walk up a few stairs. Regardless of the intensity, exercise releases endorphins which will boost your mood!
3. Try not to be anxious about the future
A lot of anxiety comes with cancer and treatment. It is common to worry about future test results, future chemotherapy appointments, relapse etc. My biggest source of anxiety was my “pain days.” For a few days following chemo I faced extraordinary pain that often brought me to the emergency room. Some side effects of chemo are unavoidable, so it is important to rest up and take full advantage of the “good days.” Looking back, I wish I had taken up meditation to put my mind at ease when I would stress about the upcoming bad days.
4. It is ok to feel bad for yourself
You have cancer. The situation you are in sucks and it’s O.K. to admit it. But just because you feel bad for yourself, doesn’t mean you should stop living your life.
5. Don’t blame yourself, or anyone else
Many people can’t help but find someone or something to blame for their diagnosis. For example, many of my family members would speculate that hair dye or eating carcinogens may have contributed to my diagnosis. The truth is, there is no evidence for any of these links so don’t waste your time and energy putting yourself down.
6. You do have a purpose in life
Life often goes on pause during cancer treatment. For example, I took the year off school. My daily schedule immediately shifted from eight hour days at school, social events and working out to eight hour days in bed, doctor appointments, and chemotherapy sessions. I felt like my life wasn’t advancing and my relationships were fading. Over time I changed my outlook and realized that I had the biggest purpose in life to date: fighting cancer. I urge you to adopt this same mentality because each day is much easier when you know you are fighting for a purpose.
7. Maintain an active social life
As an 18-year-old, most of my friends were attending university during my treatment so It was difficult to find time to see them. Due to this distance, I often found myself lacking social interactions. It was even more frustrating that my doctor wouldn’t let me visit the schools given I had no immune system. If you are at a similar stage in your life, I suggest you take full advantage of social media and facetime as a source of communication. You will be surprised with how a simple facetime call can provide you with the social life you crave.
8. Go outside
Do you ever look outside at the sun and just smile? I sure do. “Happy” weather is strongly correlated to positive mood so be sure to enjoy the outdoors and get some fresh air every day. In addition to getting my blood flowing, going for walks outside gave my days a sense of purpose.
9. Being bored is a GOOD thing
While the specific side effects of cancer treatment vary greatly for each person, everyone will surely have “good” and “bad days.” Bad days usually consist of vomiting, pain or discomfort, so when you feel bored you are likely actually having a good day. On these days I would try and plan activities for the day such as going to the gym or out for meals.
10. Don’t worry about what you look like
Cancer treatment WILL affect your appearance. Hair loss, weight gain or loss, and skin changes are some ways your appearance may change. Just a few months before I started treatment I had long, thick, bleach blonde hair and then suddenly it was gone. It’s easier said than done, but always remind yourself you are beautiful; inside and out. You are going through enough challenges already, having a low self-esteem is the last thing you need!
11. Have a hobby to pass time when you are not feeling well
There will be days that you don’t want to leave your bed. That is OK! Days are very long though when you have nothing to do, try taking up a new hobby to stay distracted while you have all this time on your hands. Drawing or painting is a fun idea, and of course Netflix when you just want to chill. I watched 10 seasons of Greys anatomy in 2 months during my treatment!!
12. Make chemo day a positive experience
Treatment day is not a happy day for any patient. Though there are little things you can do to help the day run smoothly. Pack your bag the day before (i.e. favorite snacks, comfy clothes, medicines, health card etc.), have a caregiver take you to the hospital for some company, and bring things that will help you pass the time i.e. coloring books, your phone, magazines etc.
13. Keep a sense of humour
I often used humor to make awkward, painful or challenging situations more bearable. For example, I love joking about my hair style and finding look-a-likes such as Justin Bieber and Calliou!
14. Find a wig you feel confident in
Hair loss is difficult to cope with for many women. Hair is an expression of beauty, individuality and a key part of a woman’s identity. I remember feeling completely vulnerable and naked without hair. I encourage you to invest in a wig that you feel confident in, because even though hair isn’t super important at the end of the day, wanting to look and feel normal once in a while will help with your self-esteem.
15. Get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation is a huge contributor to mental health. The weaker and more fatigued your body is, the harder it is to endure the adverse effects of treatment and maintain a positive outlook. I’m sure you’ve all had some days when you are so tired that you just start crying for no reason. Now imagine the physical stress of cancer and how sleep deprivation could trigger devastating emotions.