Cervical Cancer: Managing Emotional Distress
A cervical cancer diagnosis—any cancer diagnosis—is often accompanied by a barrage of pending decisions. Logistical considerations include additional testing, treatment options, where to go for treatment and second opinions, and how to share the news with family, friends, children and work colleagues. Adding to the distress of a cervical cancer diagnosis is regular, everyday stress: children still need care, bills need to be paid, dogs walked, litter boxes emptied and mail opened.
Caught early, cervical cancer is considered highly treatable. And although many women respond well to treatment and a prognosis is often positive, receiving a diagnosis can be overwhelming and managing stress is important for treatment.
Shock is often the initial reaction, as you may struggle to believe the diagnosis or become fearful, imagining the worst. You may feel angry, but most likely, you'll need time to absorb the volume of information you'll have to process. You might feel like withdrawing from friends and family, but you need love and support. Allow your friends and family, especially those who can be there to listen without offering unsolicited advice, to surround and care for you.
Take time to heal
Adjusting your lifestyle and putting self-care first goes a long way toward helping you cope with your diagnosis. If possible, continue your regular exercise schedule. Research shows exercising during the period of time you receive treatment can improve your physical and mental health, and may also reduce treatment side effects.
Spend time outdoors. Fresh air, sunlight and the sounds of nature can help soothe anxiety. Avoid packaged products laden with fat, sugar and salt. Balanced, healthy meals can support you in dealing with stressors, while processed foods can increase your body's stress response.
Sleep is powerful medicine, and is as important as diet and exercise. Sleep boosts your immune system, helps you look youthful, fights off diabetes and heart disease, increases your sex drive and increases fertility, which can be affected by cervical cancer treatments. Lack of sleep stresses your body and causes a decline in mood and cognitive ability.
Know your sex life can be affected by treatment, whether you undergo radiation, surgery or both. Discuss with your partner strategies for staying connected physically while you take the time your body needs to heal. Loss of libido is natural during treatment. Knowing it's normal to feel less sexual and that the lack of interest will pass could make it easier to cope with.
Breathe, laugh, bond
In as little as 10 minutes per day, you can significantly change your response to difficult situations through meditation. To begin, start by closing your eyes and noticing any sounds in your environment. Move your attention to your breathing, inhaling for a count of six and exhaling for a count of four. When thoughts appear—as they almost certainly will—notice, but don't dwell on them. You don't need to judge or chide yourself. Awareness and letting go are the goals. Journal about any feelings or thoughts that come up during this practice.
Have fun. Do things you enjoy. Eat at a favorite restaurant, and watch movies and TV shows that make you laugh. Laughter is proven to reduce stress. Schedule time every day to relax—soak in a tub, read, listen to music.
Consider joining a support group. When you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, you might feel like no one in your life understands what you're going through, and that could be true. It's hard for someone who is not in your situation to imagine the myriad emotions, fears and concerns that arise. Support groups offer comfort from people who are dealing with the same situation. You may want to talk with a therapist or social worker instead of or in addition to joining a group.
You need your own support most of all
Treat yourself as you would a cherished friend who is going through a difficult time. Let go of any expectations you might have of what you need to do and focus your energy on positive thoughts as much as possible. You can't berate yourself into feeling better, but you can love yourself into a happier, healthier state of mind and body.
Cancer in the reproductive organs can trigger fear and anxiety beyond other cancer diagnoses, especially for younger women who want to conceive one day. Knowing the stress is normal can help you accept and develop strategies for reducing its negative effects on your life.