Learning to live with cancer

People living with cancer are those people who are living with advanced or life limiting cancer or their cancer has returned (possibly in a second location) and are generally considered to be Stage 4 or metastatic. For people living with cancer, their new normal is the continuation of Drs appoints, and treatment, often trying new treatments and hoping that it will slow or stop the cancers progression

While hearing these terms can certainly be traumatic, we have known people with Stage 4 cancer who have lived, and continue to live, quality lives for years. And as treatments continue to be developed and refined, this will only continue to increase.

There are a range of tricky, sensitive subjects that people living with cancer may face, and we are going to be as honest as we can here, and share some of the wisdom we have gained over the years, and that the people we work with have shared with us. The last thing we would ever want to do is offend or frighten anyone, so please take this information in the spirit that is offered, with care and compassion, and to reassure you that you are not alone.

Mental Health

There are a range of mental health issues that people living with cancer face and it is important not only to recognise them for what they are, but also to seek help in managing them. Anxiety is the most common, with concerns over the situation now and what the future holds for you and your loved ones often at the forefront. While uncertainty around the diagnoses and or treatment can lead to distress. Talk to your Drs and make sure they take the time to explain everything to you so you understand what is happening and may happen in the future.

While some people living with cancer make a concerted effort to stay connected, others tend to separate themselves from others, including those who have finished their treatment. They often struggle to attend ‘regular’ support group meetings because it can be difficult at times to hear others ‘success’ stories and they don’t want to bring others down with their own prognoses. They may struggle to speak to their family and friends about what they are going through because they don’t want to frighten them or be a burden.

Adjusting to a new prognoses can take some time, so try to be patient with yourself and those around you. Acknowledge that some of these topics are hard to discuss and try to find someone to talk to. Mental health professionals can help you with this process and ways to manage some of the issues you may be facing.

While we have offered separate support group meetings that are more tailored to the needs of people living with cancer in the past, these can be difficult to organise around treatment. We have found that a day retreat with a group of people living with cancer can be a refreshing change from the endless appointments, and a bit of time enjoy the quiet and a lovely massage.

Private chat groups for people in a similar situation can be helpful when you need to ask a question, connect with other or vent about your situation. Just make sure these groups are linked to reputable sites and private.

Sleep difficulties

There are a wide range of factors that may be impacting on your ability to get a good night’s sleep. In order to sleep better, it is important to try and narrow down the cause. If it is due to medications, pain or some physical /medical issue, talk to your Dr about it. If on the other hand it is that you are feeling anxious, worried or can’t seem to slow the thoughts down, then speak to your mental health professional about ways to improve your sleep.

'When my mind wanders too much at night I listen to meditation music to help me sleep'.

Getting things in order

We know this is a tricky subject but it can make things so much easier on your loved ones if you spend some time thinking about your wishes and preparing key documents like a Will and Power of Attorney to ensure that your wishes are carried out the way you want.  Finding a solicitor that you can trust should make this process easier for you and give you some comfort in knowing that everything is in order.

A trusted legal representative may be able to advise you on some financial matters such as accessing your superannuation prior to your death so you have some financial support to allow you to do those things you have "always wanted to".

Sometimes having some clarity around what is going to happen after you are gone can help put your mind at ease and there are several ways to do that.  Talking to someone about what you would like to happen at your funeral to ensure your wishes are met.    You can also have a think about any special gifts, memories or gestures you would like to leave your loved ones a way of ensuirng your memory lives on.  There is a great resource called your Final Checklist and an Emotional Will at Event Resources — Dying to Know Day which will help get you thinking and covers some topics you might not have thought of!

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Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with cancer?