Updated 04 April 2017

Coping with cancer

A cancer diagnosis changes the lives of people in whom it is diagnosed and those who care about them. Health24 gives an overview of how to cope during this difficult time.

A cancer diagnosis changes the lives of people in whom it is diagnosed and those who care about them. This may be difficult to handle.

The people involved may experience different and sometimes confusing emotions. They may be frightened, angry, or depressed. These are normal reactions when people face a serious health problem. Many people handle these thoughts and feelings best when they share them with their loved ones. This can help everyone feel more at ease and can open the way for others to show their concern and offer support.

Worries about tests, treatments, hospital stays, and medical bills are common. Doctors, nurses, or other members of the health care team can help calm fears and ease confusion about treatment and work or other activities, and it is important that you ask them specifically about issues that are uncertain.

You may want to talk with them about the future, family relationships, finances and other concerns. It can also help to talk with a social worker, counsellor, clinical psychologist or member of the clergy, especially about feelings and other personal matters.

Of course patients and their families are concerned about what the future holds. Statistics help when trying to figure out what will happen on most occasions, but it is important to remember that statistics are averages based on large numbers of patients. They can't be used to predict what will happen to a certain patient because no two cancer patients are alike. If you have cancer, the doctor who takes care of you and knows your medical history is in the best position to discuss your outlook (prognosis).

You should feel free to ask your doctor about your prognosis, but not even the doctor knows for sure what will happen. When doctors talk about surviving cancer, they may use the term "remission" rather than "cure". Even though many patients who have early-stage cancer recover completely, doctors use this term because cancer can recur. This is why the term "five-year survival" is often used. It gives an indication of how many patients will survive for five years. After this period it becomes more difficult to predict the vast range of possibilities lying ahead, and the term will often not mean "totally cured". - Health24, November 2005


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