Tools for Coping

CURE, Summer 2008, Volume 7, Issue 2

A number of approaches have proved beneficial for anxiety.

While every cancer survivor is unique in his or her struggle with anxiety, says Stanford’s David Spiegel, MD, a number of approaches have proved beneficial.

Self-hypnosis, yoga and meditation can be very helpful,” says Spiegel, who adds that exercise is also a good tool. “When I need to work something out, I think about it when I run because my physical and mental arousal [level] is matched.”

As non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor Amy Bartlett mentally prepares for her follow-up scan, she practices yoga, adding that her attitude helps, too. “I’ve never been in a place where I thought I was dying,” she says. “I’ve always thought, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ That’s my way of dealing with it.”

Spiegel would say she is converting anxiety into fear. Anxiety is general, but fear is more specific and easier to control because you can take action against it, he says.

“Focus not on what the disease is doing to you, but on what you’re doing to the disease. Remind yourself you’re not helpless and passive,” Spiegel says, adding that this means being vigilant about follow-up appointments, demanding to learn test results as soon as possible and taking care of oneself.

Another coping tool found to be helpful is writing or journaling, which allows for the release of feelings that some people may not feel comfortable expressing openly elsewhere.

Self-care includes recognizing that panic may strike — both when it’s anticipated and when it surprises. It also helps to prepare. Deep breathing lessens anxiety before medical tests. But everyone is different, and myriad modalities can help you relax and put things in perspective.

Finally, keep in mind that “mortality reminders” such as CT scans can offer the gift of a new perspective. Knowing cancer could recur and alter everything in an instant can inspire you to appreciate each moment, keep priorities straight and take care of yourself.