Spirituality & Stress Management:
The Importance of Self-Care for Cancer Patients
Cancer is an experience that’s unique to every person. It’s a complicated phenomenon that profoundly affects patients physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. How you cope with it depends on the ability to fortify yourself in every respect and your willingness to take self-care seriously. It’s natural to be afraid of cancer and the traditional image of bed-ridden patients ravaged by the terrible effects that cancer has on the body.
Fighting cancer is a holistic matter; you have to care for your mind and soul and pay careful attention to stress, which impairs your body’s ability to fight cancer. It is a challenge, but serenity must be your objective. Fortunately, there are many approaches that can help you get there.
Studies have shown that prayer and faith in a higher power have the ability to improve the mood and mindset of cancer patients, an important factor in treatment and recovery. That’s no small accomplishment. Cancer and its treatment, specifically chemo and radiation treatment, cause patients to feel very sick and makes it difficult to feel good about anything. Prayer has become such an important part of the treatment process for so many people that physicians have started asking about their patients’ spiritual orientation so they can accommodate their beliefs and spiritual practices.
Prayer imparts peace of mind and gives you the ability to focus on the healing power of spirituality. Prayer connects you with the larger presence, something beyond yourself, which is important in controlling the stress that comes with cancer. For some people, prayer is a formal, ritualistic practice whereas for others it’s about carrying on a dialogue with God, an ongoing conversation. In either form, it’s a proven effective means of practicing spiritual self-care.
Whether you’re confiding in a higher power or in an empathetic human being, talking about your hopes and fears can have a powerful effect on your ability to recover. It reduces stress by helping you process your thoughts and exchanging opinions and information with others who have been through what you’re experiencing. That’s what makes cancer support groups so helpful. In fact, research has shown that patients who take part in a support group are more successful at dealing with the stress that cancer produces. It’s an emotional form of healing that bolsters morale and makes it easier to manage fears of what may happen.
Alternate forms of relief
One of the most important objectives of self-care is to distract your thoughts from going to a negative place and focusing on the positive instead. There’s great value in the healing power of laughter, using humour to improve your mood and mindset and keep from obsessing on what you fear the most. It’s a great tension reliever, as is massage therapy, which uses muscle relaxation to relieve tension, which is a product of stress. A full-body massage can be a highly effective self-care tactic. If massage therapy isn’t for you, consider warm baths with soothing scents like lavender to promote relaxation or guided meditation apps to relieve anxiety and stress.
Make sure you’re eating healthy foods during treatment. Emphasise vegetables and fruit, as well as whole grain breads, protein, nuts, and olive oil. If you experience impotence as a result of cancer, maintain a healthy diet and do exercises (consult your physician before beginning an exercise routine). Kegel exercises, contracting the muscle that controls urination, can also help.
Emotional & psychological effects of cancer
It wasn’t that long ago that a cancer diagnosis was a death sentence. And while its psychological association with mortality remains strong, death is no longer a foregone conclusion for many cancer patients. But information and education are essential. Understanding the great advances that medical science has made in the treatment of cancer can give you hope and alleviate its mental and emotional distress.
Fighting cancer is a stressful and physically draining experience. It’s very easy to become discouraged when you feel sick all the time. That’s why practicing self-care to strengthen your mind and spirituality is so important.
About the Author: I’m Scott Sanders, and I am the creator of CancerWell.org, which provides resources and support for anyone who has been affected by any form of cancer. My experience with cancer isn’t first-hand, but it’s personal. Like so many others, I have been a primary caregiver for multiple family members and friends as they have fought the disease with their whole mind, body, and spirit. Every word I write is in honour of them.