Cancer Support: Coping With Cancer Treatments

Overview

Finding out that you have cancer changes your life. Making decisions about your care and facing cancer treatment may feel overwhelming. This is a time to become informed, find the support you need, and focus on what gives you hope.

  • Find the information you'll need.

    Doctors and others may offer you lots of information about your type of cancer, your treatment options, and what will happen. It's a lot to take in.

    • Think about taking a trusted friend or family member to your appointments. Ask them to take notes for you.
    • Write down the type of cancer, the stage, and possible treatments. You may want to start a folder you can take to your appointments.
    • Ask your doctor or care team for information on the cancer and treatment options. And ask questions if you don't understand why a test or treatment is being planned.
  • Get help and support.

    If you have friends and family nearby who offer to help, accept their support. You might ask a family member or friend to organize the people helping you so you can focus on taking care of yourself.

    If you need help, your doctor can connect you with local programs that can assist with support, meal deliveries, transportation to your appointments, and other needs.

  • Focus on what brings you hope.

    This may be a difficult and stressful time in your life. But many people find a sense of hope that helps them through it. It may also help to know that current treatments are better than ever, and more people with cancer survive and live longer.

    It may help to:

    • Focus on what matters most. For some people, setting goals—large and small—helps them feel more in charge of their lives.
    • Do things that bring you comfort, whether that is spending time outdoors, being with children, or anything else.
    • Look for what brings you joy. Try to spend time every day doing something that you enjoy and gives your life meaning. This might be prayer or meditation, spending time with people you love, or attending a support group.

Treatment and side effects

Fatigue, or feeling very tired, is a common side effect of cancer treatment. See if any of these ideas are helpful.

  • Check to see if your pain is under control.

    Pain that isn't managed can make fatigue worse.

  • Get extra rest during treatment.

    Fatigue is often worse at the end of treatment or just after treatment is finished.

  • Manage your energy.
    • Notice what time of day you have the most energy. Fatigue usually has a pattern.
    • Set priorities. Make a list of the most important things you need to do. Keep a list of the things that are less important for when you have help.
    • Pace yourself. Plan important activities for times when you have the most energy.
    • Use labor-saving devices. This may mean using a bedside commode or a walker.
  • Switch between rest and physical activity.

    Walking and swimming are good activities to reduce fatigue. Slowly getting more activity may help.

    Check with your doctor before you exercise. Exercise may not be good for some people with cancer, such as those who have a fever or anemia.

  • Plan quiet activities before going to bed, such as:
    • Reading, journaling, or listening to quiet music.
    • Meditation, yoga, or relaxation exercises (like deep breathing).
  • Eat healthy foods.
    • Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may increase your energy. Try nourishing soups, which are easy to digest.
    • Don't skip meals, especially breakfast.
    • Be sure to drink enough fluids.
    • Limit caffeine and alcohol. They can make you feel more tired. And don't smoke.
  • Take care of your emotional health.

    Fatigue is often the hardest part of treatment. It may affect your sense of well-being and your mood.

    • Be sure to tell your doctor if you feel anxious or depressed. Your doctor or a counselor may be able to help.
    • Make time for things that you enjoy, such as listening to music, being with friends, or having a massage.
    • Talk with other people who've had cancer. Your local American Cancer Society chapter can help you find a support group.

Where to learn more

Ask your doctors to suggest good sources for cancer information. They may have information for you or may recommend trustworthy websites. And many hospitals have medical libraries that are open to the public.

A number of national organizations have websites you can trust. They include:

  • The American Cancer Society (ACS) at www.cancer.org.
  • The National Cancer Institute (NCI) at www.cancer.gov.
  • The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) at www.nccn.com.
  • The Patient Advocate Foundation at www.patientadvocate.org.

Credits

Current as of: September 8, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine