Finding out you have a chronic condition or disease can be overwhelming. This is especially the case if you learn you have a rare disease, such as a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST). But while the diagnosis can take a toll on your physical well-being and your emotional health, there are ways to manage the disease and move forward with your life.
Here are seven tips to help you cope with the aftereffects of a GIST diagnosis:
1. Meet with your doctor and healthcare team
Your doctor and your healthcare team are focused on treating and managing the side effects of your cancer treatment. They want you to be as comfortable as possible. They also want you to keep doing as many of your normal activities as you can during treatment.
Every cancer treatment has its side effects, but not everyone experiences the same things. Because of this, it‘s important to talk with your doctor about how you’re doing. Tell them how you’re feeling and what side effects you have, even if they don’t seem serious. Keeping your doctor in the know is an important part of managing the condition.
2. Manage your pain
Some people have pain as a side effect of their cancer treatment. There are a lot of different types of pain, and it can come and go. Living with chronic pain can be very stressful and disheartening. Talk with your doctor about any physical pain you’re feeling. Depending on your level of pain, your doctor will manage your pain with medication, offer lifestyle tips, or send you to a pain specialist who focuses on treating chronic pain.
3. Take care of yourself
The side effects of cancer can add even more stress to an already stressful situation. During this time, it’s important to take care of yourself, not just the cancer.
Focusing on yourself should start from the inside out. Eating right will help you feel your best during treatment. It will also give you more energy to go about your daily life.
Physical activity is just as important to keep you feeling your best. Low-impact activities such as yoga, walking, and swimming can improve your well-being. These activities can also help distract you from the side effects and how you’re feeling, and improve your mood. Talk with your doctor or healthcare team to discuss the best exercises for you during treatment. They will help make sure you don’t push yourself too hard.
The side effects of cancer treatment can also add a lot of stress and anxiety to your life. Managing your anxiety is an important part of taking care of yourself. Meditation or rhythmic breathing can calm anxieties and help with relaxation.
4. Find a support group
Sometimes the best way to cope with a challenge is to spend time with people who truly understand what you’re going through. Support groups bring people together, either locally or online, who are in similar health situations.
Because GIST is a rare condition, it may be hard for you to find a local support group. Still, ask your healthcare provider and see if there is a general cancer support group that you can join. Online support groups are another great option, especially if you’re able to connect with others who also have GIST.
5. Be open with your family and friends
Being diagnosed with cancer can make you feel isolated. So it’s important to have a group of people you can rely on throughout your cancer treatment. Your family and friends will likely want to help you during your diagnosis and treatment. They can offer you physical help, like driving you to appointments or bringing you meals. Or they can offer you emotional support by talking with you about how you’re feeling. Being able to lean on others during this difficult time can be a great way to cope with GIST and its side effects.
That being said, don’t feel like you have to always be open. It’s OK to tell your family and friends what you need help with and when you don’t want to talk about your diagnosis or treatment.
6. Meet with a counselor
Talking with your family and friends may be helpful, but you may also benefit from speaking to a trained mental health professional. Meeting with a psychologist or counselor can help you to understand and cope with your diagnosis and the side effects you’re having. Some people prefer to talk with a counselor in a group setting while others opt for a private conversation. Whatever you feel most comfortable with is right for you.
7. Learn a new hobby
One way to cope with side effects is through distraction. Taking up a new hobby such as learning a new language or instrument can also give you a sense of accomplishment. At the same time, doing the things that you already enjoy such as painting, reading, or playing music can help you ignore the side effects you may be experiencing. No matter if it’s a new or old hobby, taking part in an outside activity will likely boost your mood.