Coping with Cancer in Everyday Life

Having cancer can affect your life and the lives of those around you. The symptoms and side effects of the disease and its treatment may cause certain physical changes, but they can also affect the way you feel and how you live.

Cancer and treatment side effects may affect daily life, but there are ways to cope.

Learn to cope with the many issues and concerns that occur when you have cancer. There are resources available to help you learn about the disease and about the people who can help you.

Dealing with Cancer Diagnosis

When you learn you have cancer, you may feel like your life has been turned upside down. It can seem overwhelming at first, but knowing what to expect may help you feel more at ease. Learn tips for dealing with the changes cancer brings.

Accept What You’re Going Through

Once the shock of learning you have cancer wears off, the process of making changes begins. You may have to rearrange things in your life as you start treatment. You may have to learn new ways of talking to your loved ones and to your health care team. And you probably have a lot of questions to ask about adjusting to all the new issues that cancer brings. Following these tips can help.

Get in Touch with Your Feelings

Just as cancer affects your physical health, it can bring up a wide range of feelings you’re not used to dealing with. It also can make many feelings seem more intense. They may change daily, hourly, or even minute to minute. This is true whether you’re currently in treatment, done with treatment, or a friend or family member. These feelings are all normal.

Learn how to recognize the wide range of emotions you could be experiencing, including:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Fear and worry
  • Hope
  • Sadness and depression
  • Stress and anxiety

Take a Quiz: What’s Your Stress Level?

Take this quiz to find out how much stress you have been dealing with lately.

Tell Your Friends and Family

Talking about your cancer can help you deal with all of the new emotions you are feeling. Consider letting your family and friends know about your diagnosis. It may affect them as much as you. The people in your life may also feel worried, angry, or afraid.

Once people learn of your cancer, some will ask you how they can help. Others will wonder what they can do for you, but aren't sure how to ask. You can help your friends cope with the news by letting them assist you in some way. For example, ask them to drive your carpool or go to the store. Make a list of things you think you might need help with, so they can pick something they’re able to do for you.

Know When to Seek Help

If you have feelings that overwhelm or concern you, or that go on for more than 2 weeks, talk to your doctor about treatment. Some of these symptoms may include:

  • Feelings of sadness that don’t go away
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, as if life has no meaning
  • A short temper, or feeling moody
  • A hard time thinking or concentrating
  • No interest in the hobbies and activities you used to enjoy
  • Sleep problems
  • A racing heart
  • Fatigue that doesn’t go away

Review this patient distress checklist if you’re not sure whether you need help to cope with your feelings. Call a doctor right away if you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself.

Tips for Coping

There are many ways to deal with your emotions. Follow these tips to help you cope:

  • Express your feelings, no matter what they are.
  • Eat balanced meals and exercise.
  • Treat yourself to simple pleasures, like a hot bath, a nap, or your favorite foods.
  • Go to a movie, out to dinner, or to a game.
  • Get support to help with everyday jobs like cooking and cleaning.
  • Don’t try to do everything yourself.
  • Don’t force yourself to be happy.
  • Don’t try to do too much in one day.
  • Don’t give up healthy habits.
  • Learn more coping skills from the coping checklist.

Practice Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress. Use our guided relaxation videos to learn techniques for relieving stress and being mindful.

Enjoy the Little Things

In our busy world, it can be hard to slow down and notice the little things. Here are a few ways to use mindfulness to stop and smell the roses.

Love Your Favorite Things

  • Eat your favorite food. Turn off the TV, place the food in front of you, look at it, taste it, and smell it. Enjoy it!
  • Listen to your favorite song—or any music that you love!

Take a Journey in Your Mind

Think of yourself at the beach or in a garden or the mountains—anywhere you want. Close your eyes and think about what it would feel like to be there right now. Enjoy every little thing about this beautiful place!

Take a Walk Outside

Walk slowly and really focus on being there. Notice what you see, hear, and smell.

Slow Down and Breathe

A great way to start practicing mindfulness is to set aside time (even 1 minute!) to slow down and breathe.

  1. Find a quiet spot where you can be by yourself for a few minutes.
  2. Sit down, take a deep breath, and close your eyes. Notice your breath.
  3. At some point (usually pretty quickly), other thoughts will pop up in your mind. That’s ok! Just bring your attention back to your breath.
  4. Focus on your breathing, right here, right now.

Learn More About Coping with Cancer

The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society have additional resources to help you, including coping with cancer in everyday life and coping with cancer.