Sunday, October 30, 2011

Learning You Have Cancer: Gratitude

"I do have a lot of bad days, but you know, I don't talk about them or focus on them. Instead I think about all the good things. I have a lot of nice times when I'm with my grandchildren, when I go to church, and when I'm with my friends." 

Some people see their cancer as a "wake-up call." They may realize the importance of enjoying the little things in life. They go places they've never been. They finish projects they had started but put aside. They spend more time with friends and family. They mend broken relationships.

It may be hard at first, but you can find joy in your life. Take note of what makes you smile. Pay attention to the things you do each day that you enjoy. They can be as simple as drinking your morning coffee, sitting with a pet, or talking to a friend. These small, day-to-day activities can give you comfort and pleasure.

You can also do things that are more meaningful to you. Everyone has special things, both large and small, that bring meaning to their life. For you, it may be visiting a garden in your city or town. It may be praying in a certain chapel. Or it could be playing golf, taking pictures, writing a book  or even painting a fence!. Whatever you choose, embrace the things that bring you joy when you can.
Stevie JoEllie's Cancer Care Fund is working to develop and launch an access to care grant program for thyroid cancer patients and survivors nationwide. Please consider supporting our unique initiative that includes a set aside fund for healthcare access to assist thyroid cancer survivors with medical costs associated with follow up treatment, annual exams,  diagnostics and medications. 

SJCCFThyNet is a project of United Charitable Programs Inc., a 501(c) 3 Public Charity and as such all donations are tax deductible as allowed by law. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Learning You Have Cancer: Hope

Once people accept that they have cancer, they often feel a sense of hope. There are many reasons to feel hopeful.

  • Cancer treatment can be successful. Millions of people who have had cancer are alive today.
  • People with cancer can lead active lives, even during treatment.
  • Your chances of living with--and living beyond--cancer are better now than they have ever been before. People often live for many years after their cancer treatment is over.
Some doctors think that hope may help your body deal with cancer. Scientists are looking at the question of whether a hopeful outlook and positive attitude helps people feel better. Here are some ways you can build your sense of hope:
  • Write down your hopeful feelings and talk about them with others.
  • Plan your days as you have always done.
  • Don't limit the things you like to do just because you have cancer.
  • Look for reasons to hope.
However long the night, the dawn will break.
--Hausa (African) Proverb
You may find hope in nature, or your religious or spiritual beliefs. Or you may find hope in stories (such as the ones in this book) about people with cancer who are leading active lives.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Learning You Have Cancer: Stress

"I read as much as I can find about my cancer. Imagining the worst is scarier than knowing what mighthappen. Having all the facts makes me much less afraid."

Your body may react to the stress and worry of having cancer. You may notice that:
  • your heart beats faster
  • you have headaches or muscle pains
  • you don't feel like eating or you eat more
  • you feel sick to your stomach or have diarrhea
  • you feel shaky, weak, or dizzy
  • you have a tight feeling in your throat and chest
  • you sleep too much or too little
  • you find it hard to concentrate
Stress can also keep your body from fighting disease as well as it should.
You can learn to handle stress in many ways, like:
  • exercising
  • listening to music
  • reading books, poems, or magazines
  • getting involved in hobbies such as music or crafts
  • relaxing or meditating, such as lying down and slowly breathing in and out
  • talking about your feelings with family and close friends
If you're concerned about stress, talk to your doctor. He or she can suggest a social worker or counselor. You could also find a class that teaches people ways of dealing with stress. The key is to find ways to control stress and not to let it control you.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Learning You Have Cancer: Pain

Even though almost everyone worries about pain, it may not be a problem for you. Some people don't have any pain. Others have it only once in a while and others have post treatment pain or neuralgias. Cancer pain can almost always be relieved. If you're in pain, your doctor can suggest ways to help you feel better. These include:
  • prescription or over-the-counter medicines
  • cold packs or heating pads
  • relaxation, like getting a massage or listening to soothing music
  • imagery, such as thinking about a place where you feel happy and calm
  • distraction, like watching a movie, working on a hobby, or anything that helps take your mind off your pain
There are many ways to control pain. Your doctor wants and needs to hear about your pain. As soon as you have pain you should speak up. Dealing with your pain can also help you deal with the feelings discussed in this section.
When you describe your pain to your health care providers, tell them:
  • where you feel pain
  • what it feels like (sharp, dull, throbbing, steady)
  • how strong the pain feels
  • how long it lasts
  • what eases the pain and what makes it worse
  • what medicines you are taking for the pain and how much they help

If you conceal your disease, you cannot expect to be cured.
--Ethiopian Proverb

Pain Scales and Pain Journals

Pain scales or pain journals are tools that you can use to describe how much pain you feel. These tools can also help your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist find ways to treat your pain.
You are the only person who can talk about the pain you feel. When it comes to pain, there is no right or wrong answer. 

On many pain scales, you are asked to rate your pain as a number from 0 to 10. For example, you would rate your pain as "0" if you feel no pain at all. You would rate your pain as "10" if it is the worst pain you have ever felt in your life. You can pick any number between 0 and 10 to describe your pain.

When you use a pain scale, be sure to include the range. For example, you might say, "Today my pain is a 7 on a scale from 0 to 10."

A pain journal or diary is another tool you can use to describe your pain. With a journal or diary, you not only use a pain scale but also write down what you think causes your pain and what helps you feel better.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Learning You Have Cancer: Sharing Your Feelings

Just as you have strong feelings about cancer, your family or friends will react to it as well. For instance, your friends or family may:
  • hide or deny their sad feelings
  • find someone to blame for your cancer
  • change the subject when someone talks about cancer
  • act mad for no real reason
  • make jokes about cancer
  • pretend to be cheerful all the time
  • avoid talking about your cancer
  • stay away from you, or keep their visits short

Finding a Good Listener

It can be hard to talk about how it feels to have cancer. But talking can help, even though it's hard to do. Many people find that they feel better when they share their thoughts and feelings with their close family and friends.

Friends and family members may not always know what to say to you. Sometimes they can help by just being good listeners. They don't always need to give you advice or tell you what they think. They simply need to show that they care and are concerned about you.

You might find it helpful to talk about your feelings with people who aren't family or friends. Instead, you might want to meet in a support group with others who have cancer or talk with a counselor. 

A single arrow is easily broken, but not ten in a bundle.
--Japanese Proverb

Choosing a Good Time to Talk

Some people need time before they can talk about their feelings. If you aren't ready, you might say, "I don't feel like talking about my cancer right now.Maybe I will later." And sometimes when you want to talk, your family and friends may not be ready to listen.

It's often hard for other people to know when to talk about cancer. Sometimes people send a signal when they want to talk. They might:
  • bring up the subject of cancer
  • talk about things that have to do with cancer, such as a newspaper story about a new cancer treatment that they just read
  • spend more time with you
  • act nervous or make jokes that aren't very funny
You can help people feel more comfortable by asking them what they think or how they feel. Sometimes people can't put their feelings into words. Sometimes, they just want to hug each other or cry together. A man with stomach cancer said,

"It was really hard to get my sister to talk about my cancer. Finally, I just said to her, 'I know you're really worried and scared. So am I. Let's talk about it.' She was so relieved that I had brought the subject up."

Expressing Anger

Many people feel angry or frustrated when they deal with cancer. You might find that you get mad or upset with the people you depend on. You may get upset with small things that never bothered you before.

People can't always express their feelings. Anger sometimes shows up as actions instead of words. You may find that you yell a lot at the kids or the dog. You might slam doors.

Try to figure out why you are angry. Maybe you're afraid of the cancer or are worried about money. You might even be angry about your treatment. A man with advanced cancer said,

"I got so angry some days that I just wanted to take it out on something. On those days, I always tried to be angry at my cancer, not at my wife and daughter."

When anger rises, think of the consequences.

Be True to Your Feelings

Some people pretend to be cheerful, even when they're not. They think that they won't feel sad or angry if they act cheerful. Or they want to seem as if they're able to handle the cancer themselves. Also, your family and friends may not want to upset you and will act as if nothing is bothering them. You may even think that being cheerful may help your cancer go away.

When you have cancer, you have many reasons to be upset. "Down days" are to be expected. You don't have to pretend to be cheerful when you're not. This can keep you from getting the help you need. Be honest and talk about all your feelings, not just the positive ones. An older woman with liver cancer said,

"The advice of well-meaning friends to be positive, optimistic, and upbeat can also be a call for silence. Ask them about it. Don't let them force you to put on a fake smile when that's the last thing you feel like doing."

Sharing Without Talking

For many, it's hard to talk about being sick. Others feel that cancer is a personal or private matter and find it hard to talk openly about it. If talking is hard for you, think about other ways to share your feelings. For instance, you may find it helpful to write about your feelings. This might be a good time to start a journal or diary if you don't already have one. Writing about your feelings is a good way to sort through them and a good way to begin to deal with them. All you need to get started is something to write with and something to write on.

Journals can be personal or shared. People can use a journal as a way of 'talking' to each other. If you find it hard to talk to someone near to you about your cancer try starting a shared journal. Leave a booklet or pad in a private place that both of you select. When you need to share, write in it and return it to the private place. Your loved one will do the same. Both of you will be able to know how the other is feeling without having to speak aloud.  If you have e-mail, this can also be a good way to share without talking.

Summing Up: Sharing Your Thoughts and Feelings About Cancer

Cancer is hard to deal with all alone. Although talking about it may not be easy at first, most people find that sharing their thoughts and feelings helps them deal with their cancer.
Keep in mind:
  • Choose a good listener. You may not need someone to give you advice or tell you what to do. Instead, you may want someone who wants to hear about and try to understand what life is like for you right now. You may need to look outside your family to find such a person.
  • Choose a good time to share. Sometimes people will send signals to let you know they're willing to talk about cancer with you. Sometimes you can ask others about their thoughts and feelings.
  • Understand anger. Sometimes angry words come from emotions other than anger, like frustration, worry, or sadness. Try to figure out why you feel angry and why you need to express it. Don't run away from these feelings--share them and try to understand them.
  • Be true to your feelings. Remember that it's okay to be in a bad mood. Acting cheerful won't give others a real picture of how you feel, and holding in your true feelings may even be harmful.
  • Turn to community resources for help. A support group or a counselor might be able to provide more support.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Learning You Have Cancer: Control & Self Esteem

When you first learn that you have cancer, you may feel as if your life is out of control. You may feel this way because:
  • you wonder if you will live or die
  • your daily routine is disrupted by doctor visits and treatments
  • people use medical words and terms that you don't understand
  • you feel like you can't do things you enjoy
  • you feel helpless
  • the health professionals treating you are strangers
Even though you may feel out of control, there are ways you can be in charge. For example, you can:
  • Learn as much as you can about your cancer. You can call 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or TTY (for deaf and hard of hearing callers) at 1-800-332-8615. You can also go online at and click on "Need Help?" at the lower left.
  • Ask questions. Let your health providers know when you don't understand what they are saying, or when you want more information about something..
  • Look beyond your cancer. Many people with cancer feel better when they stay busy. You may still go to work, even if you need to adjust your schedule. You can also take part in hobbies such as music, crafts, or reading.
As one woman with cancer commented,

"Once I started to feel better, I found myself looking for new outlets for creativity. I had always promised myself that some day I would take a photography course. Having a new hobby helped me feel better about other areas of my life as well."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Learning You Have Cancer: Guilt & Loneliness

Many people with cancer feel guilty. For example, you may blame yourself for upsetting the people you love. You may worry that you are a burden to others, either emotionally or financially. Or you may envy other people's good health and be ashamed of this feeling. 

You might even blame yourself for lifestyle choices that could have led to your cancer. These feelings are all normal. One woman with breast cancer said,

"When I start to feel guilty that I caused my illness, I think of how little children get cancer. That makes me realize that cancer can just happen. It isn't my fault."

Your family and friends may also feel guilty because:
  • they are healthy while you are sick
  • they can't help you as much as they want
  • they feel stressed and impatient
They may also feel guilty when they don't think they can give you all the care and understanding you need.
Counseling and support groups can help with these feelings of guilt. Let your doctor or nurse know if you, or someone in your family, would like to talk with a counselor or go to a support group.

It is also common for people with cancer often feel lonely or distant from others. You may find that your friends have a hard time dealing with your cancer and may not visit. Some people might not even be able to call you on the phone. You may feel too sick to take part in the hobbies and activities you used to enjoy. And sometimes, even when you are with people you love and care about, you may feel that no one understands what you are going through.

You may feel less lonely when you meet other people who have cancer. Many people feel better when they join a support group and talk with others who are facing the same challenges. 

Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.
--Swedish Proverb

Not everyone wants or is able to join a support group. Some people prefer to talk with just one person at a time. You may feel better talking to a close friend or family member, a social worker or counselor, or a member of your faith or spiritual community.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Learning You Have Cancer: Sadness & Depression

Many people with cancer feel sad or depressed. This is a normal response to any serious illness. When you're depressed, you may have very little energy, feel tired, or not want to eat.

Depression is sometimes a serious problem. If feelings of sadness and despair seem to take over your life, you may have depression. The box below lists eight common signs of depression. Let your health provider know if you have one or more of these signs almost every day.

Early Signs of Depression

Check the signs that are problems for you:
  • a feeling that you are helpless and hopeless, or that life has no meaning
  • no interest in being with your family or friends
  • no interest in the hobbies and activities you used to enjoy
  • a loss of appetite, or no interest in food
  • crying for long periods of time, or many times each day
  • sleep problems, either sleeping too much or too little
  • changes in your energy level
  • thoughts of killing yourself. This includes making plans or taking action to kill yourself, as well as frequent thoughts about death and dying.

Depression can be treated. Your doctor may prescribe medication. He or she may also suggest that you talk about your feelings with a counselor or join a support group with others who have cancer.

Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.
--Maori Proverb

Friday, October 14, 2011

Learning You Have Cancer: Fear & Worry

"The word 'cancer' frightens everyone I know. It's a diagnosis that most people fear more than any other."

It's scary to hear that you have cancer. You may be afraid or worried about:
  • being in pain, either from the cancer or the treatment
  • feeling sick or looking different as a result of your treatment
  • taking care of your family
  • paying your bills
  • keeping your job
  • dying
Your family and close friends may also worry about:
  • seeing you upset or in pain
  • not giving you enough support, love, and understanding
  • living without you
Some fears about cancer are based on stories, rumors, and old information. Most people feel better when they know what to expect. They feel less afraid when they learn about cancer and its treatment. As one man with prostate cancer said,

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Learning You Have Cancer: Denial & Anger

When you were first diagnosed, you may have had trouble believing or accepting the fact that you have cancer. This is called denial. It can be helpful because it can give you time to adjust to your diagnosis. Denial can also give you time to feel hopeful and better about the future.

Sometimes, denial is a serious problem. If it lasts too long, it can keep you from getting the treatment you need. It can also be a problem when other people deny that you have cancer, even after you have accepted it.
The good news is that most people (those with cancer as well as those they love and care about) work through denial. By the time treatment begins, most people accept the fact that they have cancer.

Once you accept that you have cancer, you may feel angry and scared. It's normal to ask "Why me?" and be angry at:
  • the cancer
  • your health care providers
  • your healthy friends and loved ones
And if you are religious, you might even be angry with God.

Anger sometimes comes from feelings that are hard to show--such as fear, panic, frustration, anxiety, or helplessness. If you feel angry, don't pretend that everything is okay. Talk with your family and friends about it. Most of the time, talking will help you feel a lot better. 

Talking to one another is loving one another.
--Kenyan Proverb

Stevie JoEllie's Cancer Care Fund is working to develop and launch an access to care grant program for thyroid cancer patients and survivors nationwide. Please consider supporting our unique initiative that includes a set aside fund for healthcare access to assist thyroid cancer survivors with medical costs associated with follow up treatment, annual exams,  diagnostics and medications. 

SJCCFThyNet is a project of United Charitable Programs Inc., a 501(c) 3 Public Charity and as such all donations are tax deductible as allowed by law. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Learning You Have Cancer: Your Feelings

"I heard the doctor say, 'I'm sorry; the test results show that you have cancer.' I heard nothing else. My mind went blank, and then I kept thinking, 'No, there must be some mistake.'"

You will have many feelings after you learn that you have cancer. These feelings can change from day to day, hour to hour, or even minute to minute.
Some of the feelings you may go through include:
  • denial
  • anger
  • fear
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • sadness
  • guilt
  • loneliness
All these feelings are normal.

Learning that you have cancer can come as a shock. How did you react? You may have felt numb, frightened, or angry. You may not have believed what the doctor was saying. You may have felt all alone, even if your friends and family were in the same room with you. These feelings are all normal.

For many people, the first few weeks after diagnosis are very hard. After you hear the word "cancer," you may have trouble breathing or listening to what is being said. When you are at home, you may have trouble thinking, eating, or sleeping.

People with cancer and those close to them experience a wide range of feelings and emotions. These feelings can change often and without warning.

At times, you may:
  • be angry, afraid, or worried
  • not really believe that you have cancer
  • feel out of control and not able to care for yourself
  • be sad, guilty, or lonely
  • have a strong sense of hope for the future

You will have many feelings as you learn to live with cancer. These feelings can change from day to day, hour to hour, or even minute to minute.

Feelings of denial, anger, fear, stress and anxiety, depression, sadness, guilt, and loneliness are all normal. So is a feeling of hope. While no one is cheerful all the time, hope is a normal and positive part of your cancer experience.

In the next few days we will blog about the emotional toll of cancer and sincerely hope you will join us each day as we share our experience with you.