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Adjustment to Cancer: Anxiety and Distress (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - Normal Adjustment

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When patients receive and understand information about cancer and their treatment options, they may begin to feel more hopeful. Over time, by using ways to cope that have worked in the past and learning new ways to cope, patients usually adjust to having cancer. Extra professional help to deal with problems such as fatigue, trouble sleeping, and depression can be helpful during this time.

Being treated for cancer

As patients go through treatment for cancer, they use coping strategies to adjust to the stress of treatment. Patients may have anxiety or fears about:

  • Procedures that may be painful.
  • Side effects such as hair loss, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, or pain.
  • Changes to daily routines at work or home.

Patients usually adjust well when they can compare short-term discomfort to long-term benefit (for example living longer) and decide, "It's worth it". Questions that patients may ask during treatment include, "Will I survive this?"; "Will they be able to remove all the cancer?"; or "What side effects will I have?" Finding ways to cope with problems caused by cancer such as feeling tired, getting to and from treatment, and changes in work schedule is helpful.

Finishing treatment

Finishing cancer treatment can cause mixed feelings. It may be a time of celebration and relief that treatment has ended. But it may also be a time of worry that the cancer could come back. Many patients are glad that treatment has ended but feel increased anxiety as they see their doctors less often. Other concerns include returning to work and family life and being very worried about any change in their health.

During remission, patients may become stressed before follow-up medical appointments because they worry that the cancer has come back. Waiting for test results can be very stressful.

Patients who are able to express both positive and negative emotions are more likely to adjust well. Patients are more able to cope with the emotional stress of finishing treatment and being in remission when they:

  • Are honest about their emotions.
  • Are aware of their own feelings and are able to share them with others.
  • Are able to accept their feelings without thinking of them as right or wrong or good or bad and are willing to work through their emotions.
  • Have support from others who are willing to listen and accept their feelings.
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