Responding to Cancer through Self-Care and Spirituality

It wasn’t that long ago that a cancer diagnosis was tantamount to a death sentence. Thankfully, those days are pretty well behind us, but cancer remains a physical, mental and emotional ordeal that’s unlike anything else. It means weeks of chemo and radiation therapy, which ravages the body and leaves you feeling drained and emotionally spent. But, responding to cancer through self-care and spirituality can make a big difference.

There’s plenty of uncertainty about one’s long-term prognosis. Will you beat it and, if you don’t, what alternatives will be open to you? Understandably, stress is a constant among cancer patients. The stress of your prognosis, the stress of worrying how it’ll affect your family, and whether you’ll be able to get your life back to normal. That’s why self-care and seeking spiritual wellness is so important when you have cancer. You have to find ways to feel better mentally and emotionally to achieve a sense of optimism and to feel nurtured in body, mind, and spirit.

There have been wonderful advancements in cancer treatment, but learning you have it is still terrifying, a natural reaction that places great psychological and emotional stress on patients. It’s unsurprising that one in three cancer patients ends up with some mental health disorder. The fear of not fully understanding the disease or knowing what will happen is frightening and makes it essential to find ways to cope with the situation.

Slow down, quiet down

When you have cancer, it’s important to regain a sense of control over your life. One of the best ways to do that is to slow down and not allow your mind to race or jump to conclusions that may have no validity. Things tend to get chaotic very quickly when you’re diagnosed with cancer – you think about getting your affairs in order, asking your physician a ton of questions, while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy. It’s very difficult to do all that if you’re not well grounded. Slow the pace and try to live one day at a time.

Do what makes you happy

One mistake that cancer patients make is giving up or putting their favorite activities on hold. If you ever needed the calm and solace that comes from your favorite hobbies, it’s when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Make a point of playing pool, reading a book, or watching your favorite movies, anything that makes you feel good and feeds your enthusiasm. You have the ability to achieve a mindset of healing, which is so important in helping you deal with the pain and emotional ups and downs of cancer.

Record your feelings

Sometimes, keeping a journal helps you process all the thoughts and emotions that rage through your brain as you come to terms with the enormity of what’s happened. For many people, journaling is a way to stay calm and carry on a logical, coherent dialogue with yourself. There may be concerns and fears that you aren’t comfortable sharing with others. Keeping a journal provides an outlet for those feelings, a healthy and unimpeded source of venting the anger, fear, frustration, and hopefulness that makes it so hard to maintain a positive mindset.

Find ways to exercise

Exercising can be difficult when you’re undergoing treatment for cancer. Patients often feel terribly ill from the harsh treatment and are barely able to hold their heads upright. Once you start feeling a little better, try to make time for some low-impact physical activity, something like yoga, which combines meditation and flexibility-enhancing movement.


The role of spirituality in cancer care has grown considerably in recent years as healthcare providers have come to accept its mental and physical benefits. Many doctors now ask patients about their spiritual practices and orientation so that they can accommodate them and their patients’ spiritual needs. It’s not unusual for a surgeon to pray along with a patient before an operation. Spiritual belief helps patients make some sense of what’s happening to them and provides an important emotional outlet.

Cancer is a highly personal experience; it affects people in different ways and makes it necessary to find highly personal ways to deal with it and its symptoms. Self-care, those practices that help you cope, and the comfort that comes with spiritual belief are important to effective cancer care. Patients receive treatment from their doctors but need to find ways to draw on their own inner resources as well.

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Latest update: September 7, 2018
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