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Maintaining Normality Is Key During Cancer Recovery

Cancer inherently provokes feelings of insecurity and worry about the future, affecting one’s physical and mental health and threatening to wrest one’s sense of psychological well-being. In a study published at a national conference in 2013, D Roberts et al noted that “current professional responses pathologise the experience, largely ignoring patients’ and carers’ own, often successful coping strategies.” The study focuses on how patients with stage 3/4 cancer use specific techniques to bolster their psychological well-being in an aim to enjoy a maximum degree of ‘normality’. It also mentions the need for professionals to provide proactive support.

Successful Coping Strategies

The study, which focuses on 26 patients and their carers, involved interviews with patients battling breast, prostate colon and lung cancer (and those receiving palliative care). Researchers found a number of specific strategies which helped promote normality. These included:

  • Self-indulgence: This is very different from selfishness. It simply involves embracing ‘treats’ and taking part in activities that might sometimes be regarded as luxuries. Experiences could involve a nice meal, a visit to a spa, etc. Treats do not have to involve ‘action’; they can simply involve a nice ‘lazy day’ with a loved one at home, just ‘doing nothing’. Each person should feel free to define their idea of a day off.
  • Socialising: Being with others can help patients with cancer ‘switch off’ from thoughts and emotions about their diagnosis and prognosis, keeping their mind ‘in the present moment’ and allowing them to enjoy laughs with friends as well as discussions on a plethora of interesting topics which may have nothing to do with their disease.
  • Support: Sometimes the the aim is not evasion, but rather, connection. Part of normalcy is not evading talks about a patient and their loved one’s worries and insecurity about cancer.

The researchers stated that initiatives must be set up which “actively engage with patient and carer perspectives,” as a way to take the focus away from purely professional themes. They also found that patients are interested in receiving information from peers, not only from their health care professionals.

Stress Relief to Attain a Sense of Normality

Studies have shown that cancer survivors can have anxiety about recurrence and progression of the disease, which, when coupled with treatment-related side-effects, can result in anxiety and depression. This state of mind has been linked to a lower pain threshold, low self-esteem, aberrant cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and the like. There are many ways to address cancer-related stress. One is through stress-busting supplements that enhance brain power. Natural supplements such as Gingko Biloba, for instance, have been found to help battle stress and improve sleep quality in the general population.

Yoga and Holistic Activities

Another way that patients can strengthen their ability to cope is through yoga. Study after study has shown that yoga lowers levels of cortisol, but also improves mood and vitality – for instance, in women receiving radiotherapy for breast cancer. In addition to yoga and other holistic activities such as meditation and Tai Chi, specific management techniques that have proven successful with cancer patients include progressive muscle relaxation, controlled breathing, visualisation exercises, and social interaction.

Although maintaining a sense of ‘normalcy’ can be challenging during cancer recovery, specific strategies have been found to help. These include being realistic, being self-aware, relying on others, and communicating one’s thoughts and views. Healthcare professionals, meanwhile, should understand the extent to which patients value receiving information from those in their situation, and understand that care extends to enlightening patients on strategies that can help them regain a sense of normalcy.

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