Self-care and Spiritual Wellness in the Cancer Battle
When someone receives a cancer diagnosis, a flood of physical and emotional stress follows. Cancer changes lives in many ways. While some diagnoses are more treatable than others, with some of the most common types - including breast and prostate cancer - having low mortality rates, treatment upturns a patient’s world. Although a certain level of physical and psychological stress is normal and expected, it’s crucial to understand when these stresses exceed an acceptable level so help can be found.
The Physical Toll of Cancer
Depending on the diagnosis, there may be underlying symptoms that affect everyday life. Common signs of cancer include fatigue, weight loss, pain, weakness, insomnia and nausea. Each of these symptoms lower the quality of life for a cancer sufferer. No matter what type or the progression of their disease, cancer patients share a high symptom burden. Patients have a hard time working and going about their normal routines.
In medical studies, cancer patients almost unanimously reported exhaustion at levels that impact their lives. Even with these patients, an open dialogue between patient and physician can help alleviate some of the discomfort. Although cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and surgery, can be severe and debilitating, a care plan should incorporate physical comfort as a tactic aimed at weathering a long battle.
Emotional and Psychological Effects of Cancer
For most, a cancer diagnosis hits hard emotionally as well. Cancer brings our mortality to the forefront even in the most mild and treatable cases. Learning that you have a potentially terminal disease disrupts lives, frightens, and blurs futures and dreams. The shock of a cancer diagnosis eventually recedes, but fear lingers. Fear leads right to anxiety and depression.
Since it’s generally normal for cancer patients to fear their future, how does someone know when their levels of emotional distress are unhealthy? Here are a few signs of devastating feelings of dread:
You are overwhelmed to the point of panic.
Sadness keeps you from going through treatment.
Feeling hopeless, and questioning if treatment is worth the stress and pain.
Dwelling on death or thoughts of suicide.
Feeling worthless or like a burden.
If most of these signs are present, it’s crucial to not only speak to your treating physician, but to also speak with a behavioral health specialist. Upon your diagnosis, you likely would have been assigned a palliative care team, including members to speak to during unbearable times. Take advantage of these resources before the debilitation becomes too deep.
Mitigating Pain and Discomfort Through Self-Care
Beyond reaching out to palliative support resources and your physician, there are several ways to self-manage the stress and discomfort of cancer. Self-care, which is comprised of acts we can take to increase comfort, is an essential tool in alleviating pain and regulating emotions. Components of self-care that are especially effective in cancer treatment include:
Following a healthy diet. Some cancers have been shown to go into remission more easily with the introduction of balanced diets.
Hydration. The physical toll of treatment robs bodies of water, which is essential for health and stamina.
Exercise. While physical activity may not be appropriate or possible for all cancer sufferers, your doctor may encourage a level of activity that is right for your stage.
Spirituality’s Role in Emotional Wellness
An additional element of self-care involves mindfulness and spirituality. Spiritual wellness occurs when a cancer patient understands their purpose in life, in spite of the diagnosis. When a patient is spiritually well, stress is replaced to a certain extent by acceptance and peace with the meaning of life and the potential outcomes of treatment. Many cancer patients rely on spirituality as a coping mechanism, with studies showing that quality of life increases when spirituality becomes a component of cancer care. Beliefs are personal, and there is no one correct path, but by reflecting on matters that seem beyond our control, they become less stressful.
Cancer diagnosis and treatment changes lives drastically. While no one tactic can necessarily offer a cure to stress and physical ailment, combining self-care and spiritual wellness can alleviate symptoms and add much needed positivity and calmness.