Coping With a Cancer Diagnosis
Abigale Hassel, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C – Oncology Social Worker
As humans, we inherently want to escape stress. This typically involves trying to control the situation, whether it is a work demand, financial strain, or argument. However, in the case of a cancer diagnosis, there is no controlling it. So, how do you cope with it?
Coping with cancer is similar to coping with any other trauma; you have a grief response. Grieving doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve lost someone, but something. When people are first diagnosed they often feel like they’ve lost their sense of normalcy and security. Their life is no longer the same, and that’s incredibly difficult to come to terms with.
Generally, there’s no “one size fits all” way to cope. With time, everyone finds a method that works best for them. I am here to guide them down the path to healthy coping, rather than unhealthy coping. They, of course, have freedom to do what they want, but I can help remove obstacles.
Healthy coping begins when you understand you can’t control the situation, but you can control how you react to it. You aren’t in control of the cancer itself, but you are in control of your thoughts and emotions.
One of the most important things you can practice is mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being present and aware. There are various resources available to learn from and techniques to try, the simplest of which is something we all do: breathe. Taking a moment to reflect and focus on yourself can keep you from spiraling toward anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness goes hand-in-hand with self-care. Whether it involves making more time to pursue a hobby, pampering yourself, or saying “no” to something you don’t feel up to, self-care is paramount in stress reduction.
I also encourage patients to stay offline as much as possible. Reading others’ stories can sometimes lead you to think you’re facing the worst. However, there are countless cases and types of cancer, and each person is going to experience something different.
In addition to the stress of the diagnosis, and the average stressors of everyday life, the financial burden of treatment can take a serious toll on cancer patients. Not only do they have bills to pay, but they often have a reduced income.
At the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Washington Township, our patient assistance fund -- largely supported by the Bill Bottino Cancer Foundation -- can help with non-medical bills, such as rent and utilities. Eligible patients can receive $2,000 each year for the duration of their treatment.
We also partner with the Wellshire Farms/Colameco Cancer Transporation Fund to provide safe transportation to patients who are unable to get here on their own. (Public transport is highly discouraged, as patients are often immunocompromised.)
I also help connect many patients with outside foundations that can provide further assistance, even after treatment.
At the Cancer Center, we also offer a variety of classes and activities through our Center for Hope & Healing. Not only are patients invited to attend, but cancer survivors throughout the community are welcome as well. (Due to COVID-19, events will be cancelled/postponed until May 8th.)
In the cancer community, we often say that there’s life before cancer (BC) and life after cancer (AC). This is because the cancer journey often shapes people into someone they never thought they could be. They become advocates for others.