Caring for Yourself with Cancer: Self-Care and Spiritual Wellness Advice
A Cancer Diagnoses
Being diagnosed with cancer will rock your entire world. Knowing it is the second leading cause of death in the United States, suddenly everything you loved and perhaps took for granted is in jeopardy. Having cancer can feel like a trespasser has invaded your life and you don’t know if it will ever truly leave.
Fortunately, survival rates for cancer patients are increasing as technology makes it easier to diagnose earlier and treatments improve. By January 1, 2024, it is estimated that the population of cancer survivors will grow to almost 19 million: 9.6 million females and 9.3 million males. While modern medicine is crucial for treatment, a key to making it through cancer treatment lies within the patient. They must have the will to survive that drives them to care for themselves and look after their spiritual wellness. While that may sound obvious and over-simplified, the truth is that the disease can take a huge toll on a person’s emotions and psyche.
The Emotional and Psychological Impact of Cancer
Cancer patients often find themselves feeling anxious, depressed, and unable to adjust when presented with their diagnosis. The damage only intensifies as the patient goes through treatment. Procedures including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can cause severe side effects that put the patient at greater risk for developing emotional and psychological stress. Post-treatment, they may feel pressured to “get better” and resume their normal lives even if their body is taking its time recovering. About one in three cancer patients ends up suffering from a mental health disorder.
The toll the disease takes on the emotions and psyche can be more than distressing– it can also have a negative impact on a person’s overall chance of survival. High levels of chronic stress suppress essential lymphocyte cells that defend the body against antigens, such as bacteria, viruses and cancerous cells. The body’s immune system is weakened and it becomes more difficult for the person to heal from the disease.
Self-Care and Spiritual Wellness
By being proactive regarding one’s self-care and spiritual wellness, the cancer patient can help fight emotional and psychological stress and improve their chances for survival. Self-care refers to both the big and little things we do for ourselves to ensure our bodies, minds, and emotions are in their best shape. It can be pretty personal, but a lot of what we do as self-care (going to the doctor, getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water…) can be considered universal. Spiritual wellness, on the other hand, is always personal. It refers to what we do to fulfill our purpose in life. For many people, looking after one’s spiritual wellness includes observing religious beliefs, prayer, and meditation. For others, it can be a more secular journey. While researchers have found that spirituality helps promote better post-surgery outcomes, religiousness is not a necessary factor. As long as the patient has a deep reverence for life (including a feeling of deep respect and connectedness to nature, art, or music), they generally experience a more positive recovery and reduced hospital time.
Here are some ways to practice self-care and look after one’s spiritual health while being treated for cancer:
- Spend time with loved ones. Make time for friends and family that bring you joy and happiness.
- Take a walk outside. Enjoy all the pleasures Mother Nature has to offer and take in the beauty of the earth. The gentle exercise also releases feel-good endorphins into the body, which is a plus!
- Meditate. Spend time enjoying and appreciating the simplicity of a moment.
- If you have pets, take some time to play and relax with them. Pets are proven to help reduce stress!
- Cut out social media. It only adds to stress and dissatisfaction.
- Flex your creative muscles! Paint a picture, dance, play an instrument…tap into any artform that brings you happiness.
Cancer is a devastating disease that doesn’t just attack your body– it also has a negative impact on one’s emotional and psychological wellbeing. Unfortunately, mental and emotional stress make it more difficult for the body to recover. That’s why it is imperative to practice self-care and look after one’s spiritual wellness when dealing with cancer.
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