Cancer treatment will bring major changes to your life. These changes can be both physical and emotional. Oftentimes, there’s a lot of emphasis on the physical side effects of treatment but it’s important to remember that there will likely be emotional and psychological effects of both your cancer diagnosis and treatment. It’s normal to feel anxious, sad, and scared before during and after treatment. Sometimes these feelings are severe and overwhelming, which may be a sign of emotional distress and/or depression.

Assessing and understanding your emotional health will allow you to identify your needs, make a self-care plan, and ask for and receive the support you need. All of these will help you to get through these tough times as painlessly as possible.

Taking a Distress Assessment

An important first step is a self-evaluation. The American Cancer Society (ACS) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) offer a distress assessment tool. These tools are very useful in identifying the level and areas of distress and helping you determine when and where to get help.

If your distress is high, ask your oncologist for a referral to a counselor or other mental health professional. Just like any other chemotherapy side effect, distress is a symptom that can, and should, be treated.

Assessing How You’re Coping

Thinking about and assessing how you’re coping may mean looking for the good even in a bad time or trying to be hopeful instead of thinking of the worst. Try to use your energy to focus on wellness and what you can do now to stay as healthy as possible.

The American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Coping Checklist for Patients can help you determine if you’re coping in a healthy and helpful way. It may also help to better understand the challenges of cancer and how others are dealing with these challenges. It can also help you identify some healthy ways to cope with the emotional distress of your cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Getting Through

Every cancer patient is going to feel overwhelmed or depressed at times. Keep these tips in mind to help cope with the stress of treatment:

  • Learn as much as you can. Knowing what to expect can help give you a sense of control and rid you of the fear of the unknown.
  • Ask questions. Let your oncologist and other healthcare providers know when you don’t understand something or when you want more information.
  • Focus on the positive. Identify and stay focused on any positive aspects of your situation. Try to remain hopeful and focus on what you can do now to stay as healthy as possible.
  • Make a joy list. Writing down the things that make you happy or things that you’re grateful of can help you make light of your situation.
  • Identify your support systems. Have a running list of people you can contact when in need or for those times when you feel overwhelmed. And don’t be ashamed to ask your loved ones for help.
  • Be patient with the process and yourself. Know that you can get through this and your life will eventually return to a more balanced and normal state.
  • Look past your chemotherapy. Make a list of things that you want to do after your treatment so that you have things to look forward to. If you’re able, continue any hobbies or pick up new ones. Take a walk, soak in a bath, or do another activity that’s soothing and comforting.
  • Find a cancer support group. Being able to talk with others, whether in person or online, who are also facing cancer can be beneficial to your health and well-being.

There’s plenty of help available to guide you through these tough times. The first step is completing a self-assessment and gaging your level of distress. Knowing your level of distress will allow you to know what kind of support you need. And knowing how to support yourself before, during, and after your treatment will improve your experience and outcome.