Stress Management for Cancer Patients

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Feeling pressure is normal; how you cope is how you win.

When you are fighting cancer, stress comes with the territory.

You worry about the disease. About the treatment and side effects. About the impact on your family. And, of course, the medical bills.

Don’t let the worry win.

Mind control

“It’s not the stressor itself that is going to affect your health. It’s how you cope with the stressor,” says Dr. Christina Pozo-Kaderman, a clinical psychologist and UHealth’s director of clinical operations for cancer support services. “It’s really how you approach that stressor in your life that’s going to determine how it affects you emotionally, physically, and spiritually.”

In other words, how much you mind matters. Because the stress itself can harm you.

As the National Cancer Institute reports, “Research has shown that people who experience intense and long-term (i.e., chronic) stress can have digestive problems, fertility problems, urinary problems, and a weakened immune system. People who experience chronic stress are also more prone to viral infections such as the flu or common cold and to have headaches, sleep trouble, depression, and anxiety.”

Reaching out

But, says Dr. Pozo-Kaderman, one of the first things to realize is that you don’t have to go it alone.

“Talking to someone can be of great help,” she says. “To just get education on what you’re going through and how to cope with it. Social workers can help with that. Psychologists can help with that. But they need to know and understand cancer.”

Finding help

“It’s good to learn about the resources available,” she says. “An initial resource that can be very helpful is, if you’re getting treated and you’re going to a cancer center, the social workers are crucial initial contact persons that can help you get connected to the resources.”

Pharmaceutical companies frequently can help with medicine costs. Various organizations offer grants and support. Social workers can guide you through the process and make recommendations.

And if you still feel overwhelmed, says Pozo-Kaderman, “work with a therapist who can give you the skills on how to cope with the emotional part of what you’re going through. And part of that is understanding your cancer, your cancer treatment, and what to expect from it.”

UHealth patients, she says, get remedies tailored to their specific needs. Everything from cognitive behavior and relaxation skills to music therapy, art, and acupuncture. There are psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers to help, as well as a nondenominational chaplain to offer spiritual guidance, an exercise physiologist, and massage professionals.

“We really meet the patient where they’re at.”