Facing Crisis After Crisis During Cancer: How to Cope

April 28, 2022
Jyoti Patel, MD, FASCO

To put it simply, we are all facing crisis upon crisis. And, when you are also experiencing cancer, these crises can seem even more overwhelming.

First, we have had to manage the ongoing crisis of climate change and the impacts it has had on our world, including the rise of natural disasters. We all continue to adapt to the challenges climate change has created in the way we live, work, and care for people with cancer.

Then, the pandemic turned our lives upside down—and it is not over yet. The continued spread of the virus could give rise to an even more contagious variant in the future, prompting further disruptions in our lives down the road.

More recently, we’ve had to face the crisis of the war in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent shockwaves throughout the globe. Above all is the shock of the human tragedy—the suffering of ordinary men, women, and children in Ukraine, over 11 million of whom have been displaced. The economic consequences of the war spread far and fast, hitting the world’s most vulnerable people. We expect worsening food insecurity in some parts of the world because of it, and we’re all feeling increases in our day-to-day food and transportation costs. So, when we factor cancer into these crises, the stakes seem even higher.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a stressful experience in any person’s life. While stress has not been shown to cause cancer, chronic stress may weaken the immune system, causing other health problems and decreasing feelings of well-being. The increased stress that many of us are feeling with so many things happening in the world can further increase feelings of lack of agency and control.

That is why Cancer.Net strives to provide the resources you need to help you deal with some of the stressors you might be encountering during cancer.

For example, if you are struggling with life during the pandemic, you can find a multitude of resources on how to cope, including what to know about COVID-19 and cancer and answers to your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, for those who are living through the war in Ukraine while managing a cancer diagnosis, Cancer.Net has several resources available on managing your care available in Ukrainian, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, and Slovak. Dr. Fay Hlubocky, Cancer.Net’s Associate Editor for Psychosocial Oncology, also wrote a blog post on taking care of your mental health during the Ukrainian crisis that is available in Ukrainian, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, and Russian. Finally, Dr. Hlubocky contributed to an ASCO Connection article, “Psychosocial Support for Patients Affected by Cancer and War: Practical Advice for Providers,” which will be translated into Ukrainian, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, and Russian. These will be the first translations to be featured in ASCO Connection.

If you are facing cancer right now and are struggling with the stressors created by the crises in our world, here are some tips:

  1. Be aware of your limits.

  2. Ask for help.

  3. Prioritize what’s important.

  4. Focus on things you can control.

  5. Seek financial advice.

  6. Exercise regularly and try to eat well and get enough sleep.

If you’re a caregiver, consider:

  1. Finding your support system.

  2. Gathering information to help you cope.

  3. Accepting a helping hand.

  4. Planning for the future.

  5. Being mindful of your own health.

Without a doubt, we have all been doing our best to persevere over these past 2 tumultuous years, and it’s clear that healthy and supportive relationships are key to promoting resilience and improving mental wellness. It’s more important than ever that trusted resources like Cancer.Net exist to provide information and tools to people with cancer and their loved ones to help them reduce stress and cope through difficult times.

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