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Colorectal Cancer: In Treatment: Emotional Well Being


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As you go through treatment, always keep the goal of the treatment in mind. It will make living through it easier.

Do what you can to keep a realistically optimistic attitude (which we refer to as a "positive attitude"). Avoid the “tyranny of positive thinking” (coined by Dr. Jimmie Holland). (See "To Learn More.") 

Expect that emotions will surface at least at the start of treatment, when side effects appear, and at the end of treatment. One of the early emotions to anticipate is grief. It’s normal, if for no other reason than the loss of the status of being a healthy person. For more information, click here.

The emotions that surface when side effects first appear tend to lessen and go away over time - even if the side effect continues. For instance, there is generally a major emotional let down for the first few days if hair starts to fall out. It generally eases as treatment proceeds.

It’s important to express emotions and not keep them bottled up.

  • Communicate with family and friends, and perhaps co-workers. 
  • Consider expressing emotions by writing in a journal, or doing art or handicrafts or other creative activity.

Studies show that people who have multiple sources of support do better than people who are more isolated.

  • Share your emotions. 
  • Watch for depression. 
  • Look for support among people close to you. 
  • Make contact with a cancer buddy - someone who is going through what you are going through or who went through it recently.
  • Consider joining a colorectal cancer support group or self help group of people going through a similar experience. There is a unique strength in group membership. Some people join support groups just for the helpful practical information they learn. You can try a group for a few sessions. If it’s not for you, move on until you find one that is – or consider starting your own.
  • Be on the lookout for new friends, especially people who add variety to your existing circle. It may be difficult to make friends during treatment, but you never know who you’ll meet, including at a treatment facility.

Do what you can to relieve the stress and feel good.

Keep in mind that people who love you, love you for who you are and what is inside of you, not for your physical appearance. Don’t let physical changes, or perceived physical changes, stand in the way of living

It helps to cope with things as they happen if you keep informed about what is going on and what to expect on a day-to-day basis during a treatment, including potential side effects.

  • The doctor in charge of administering the treatment can tell you about the side effects that usually accompany your treatment. 
  • As you will see in Managing Your Medical Care, side effects are no where near like what they used to be. There are techniques for reducing the effect of each possible side effect.

When waiting for test results, there are time tested ideas that can help you get through the waiting period. For instance, schedule tests for early in a week so you don’t have to wait through a weekend. For more information, click here.

Do not be surprised if you have stress which shows up just before you go for a treatment which makes it difficult to work, pay attention to others, or even eat. This is known as “anticipatory stress.” There are proven techniques for dealing with stress.

Live in the moment. When fear and/or anxiety show up, keep in mind that they are thoughts, and that you can change your thoughts. If fear keep returning, use it as a spur to take an action you can control such as eating healthy, exercising and getting rest/sleep. (For information about dealing with fear or anxiety, see the documents in "To Learn More.")

Reconnect with spirituality and/or religion (they are not necessarily the same).

If things seem bleak at any given point, keep in mind that there is no such thing as false hope. At least one person survives every illness. That person could just as easily be you as someone else

Think about getting a pet if you don't have one. It doesn't have to be a cat or dog to have a positive effect. (To learn more, see Pets 101).

Look for humor on a daily basis. Laughter helps. Comedians find humor in just about everything. If you aren't seeing any, consider sources that make you laugh. For instance, watch current comedies or reruns on television. One or another if available 24/7.  For more information, click here.

Consider seeking professional counseling if you get stuck in a down mode or feel overwhelmed. If the holidays are difficult for you because of your diagnosis of colorectal cancer, click here for tips about getting through it.

Toward the end of treatment:

  • Think about rewarding yourself (and your spouse/partner) when treatment ends. For instance, plan a trip away from home - or even two trips. If two trips, the first one should be a short trip just to get away and chill out while your body and mind absorb what you've been through. Then in a few months when you're feeling stronger, a longer trip, perhaps further away. (Make proper preparations before travel so assure your health isn't affected. The document in "To Learn More" shows you how to prepare and travel safely).
  • Consider creating a ritual to celebrate the end of treatment. You probably won't feel much better physically than you do as treatment nears the end, but don't let that stop you. Experience indicates that planning a ritual and looking forward to it will help get you through the end of treatment.
  • Make your first follow-up appointment as early as your doctor recommends. You are likely to experience depression from the withdrawal of the treatment family. Seeing your doctor again can help provide reassurance. (To learn more about medical care, see: Colorectal Cancer: In Treatment: Managing Your Medical Care 

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