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Distress and Cancer

Posted 4/11/2016 by UHBlog

Distress and Cancer. (Image courtesy of master isolated images at

Distress is when a person feels that they cannot manage or cope with cancer. It can leave you feeling helpless, sad or afraid. Often, people find it hard to cope and adjust when:

  • Finding out about the cancer and before a treatment plan is in place
  • The cancer has spread or come back
  • Treatment is finished

Most people with cancer will have distress from time to time at any point in their cancer journey.

Having a plan can help. Doing things that ease stress can help you cope. Examples include:

  • Exercise, such as walking or yoga
  • Pray, meditate or talk with a faith leader
  • Talk with others or write in a journal about your feelings
  • Music and art therapy; talk to your doctor or nurse if you would like to see a music or art therapist
  • Join a cancer support group
  • Talk to a social worker, counselor or therapist to help sort out feelings and get support. Your doctor or nurse can help arrange this.
  • Read, spend time in nature, use humor
  • Do things to take care of yourself, such as resting and eating well
  • Learn and practice relaxation and guided imagery
  • Plan for quiet private time
  • Talk with people who have the same type of cancer you have. Find out what helped them and their families cope.

Knowing when to ask for help is key. Ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to a social worker, therapist or psychiatrist if these symptoms last more than two weeks:

  • Feeling sad, depressed, anxious or panicky
  • Cannot sleep
  • Crying all the time
  • Thoughts of killing yourself

Nearly half of cancer patients report that they have a lot of stress. A distress screening can be done to help you adjust and cope with cancer.

Find out more about these services offered through UH Seidman Cancer Center:

For local cancer support groups and cancer related programs:

To learn more online:

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