Hearing a doctor say "You have cancer" is devastating news. After the initial shock, this abrupt change in your life affects you in many ways. Most obvious is the physical fact of having an illness, which compromises your health. The other consequence is its emotional impact.
Whether due to treatment such as chemotherapy, poor appetite, stress or depression, cancer may leave you tired and keep you from enjoying usual activities. The amount of fatigue varies with the type of cancer and treatment, and with the individual person. Although this fatigue can be draining, it isn't usually constant, and there are ways to help you cope.
In some cases (when fatigue is related to anemia or depression), medications may help with fatigue – talk to your health care professionals about whether a medication may be right for you. To boost your morale, book some special time to enjoy doing things just for you when you feel up to it. Whether it's taking a walk in the park, watching a funny movie, playing with your children, doing yoga, painting, or going to a movie, it can all help. The pleasure you gain from the simple things in life may be just what you need the next time you begin to feel emotionally discouraged. Many people have also found meditation to be helpful in dealing with the physical and emotional stresses of cancer.
The stress of living with cancer can take a huge emotional toll. While it is important to vent your emotions, it does not come easy to everyone. It can be hard to talk about, as you may be uncomfortable, or you may fear you will make others uncomfortable. Some ways you can vent your emotions include writing down your thoughts and feelings in a letter and letting yourself have a good cry in private.
Coping with the cosmetic side effects of cancer treatment can also be stressful, since it affects self-image. Hair loss due to chemotherapy, for instance, may be devastating. Likewise, changes in skin tone and weight loss can be very distressing.
Luckily, there's help: a Canadian group, Look Good, Feel Better (www.lgfb.ca), is dedicated to promoting a positive self-image for women with cancer. The program, with the support of private companies and many volunteers, provides women with advice on dealing with the effects of cancer and chemotherapy on their appearance. In addition to advice on skin care (very important if it's becoming very dry or rough), making head wraps or choosing wigs, women are provided with basic make-up kits. Volunteers teach them how to apply the cosmetics, using special techniques and colours to complement their present skin condition.
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