Tips for Coping with Stress During Cancer, According to Actual Patients and Caregivers

“Through therapy, I learned a lot of ways to cope with the stress that I was under.”

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It’s no secret that getting a cancer diagnosis and going through treatment can be stressful. You may have fear about what the treatment will be like and what your future holds. There’s also the stress of managing a home, family, budget, and career while dealing with cancer. Then there’s juggling the schedule of cancer treatments and appointments. All of that adds up, which is why it’s important to have tips for coping with stress during cancer.

What are tips for coping with stress during cancer?

Find your happy place

“I recommend everybody find a happy place. Basketball to me is the place that I would get out with my boys and we would shoot hoops, sweat a little bit, get that chemo out of me. [They] would treat me like a player, not like a cancer patient, so it was therapeutic for me in so many ways, on so many levels, emotionally and physically.”

— Howard Brown, diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stage III colon cancer, then stage IV colon cancer

Allow yourself to escape

“I played video games, like role-playing games where it's these fantastical worlds where you can just kind of [immerse] yourself in this crazy story. [You] kind of just forget about your life for a moment, right? That was escapism for me. Aside [from] that, I did a lot of reading, also kind of fantasy novels.”

— Erik Hale, diagnosed with stage IIIA lung cancer, then stage IIIB lung cancer

Get help from therapy

“Through therapy, I learned a lot of ways to cope with the stress that I was under. [I would go] on walks, and during those walks, I would just say out loud or to myself the things that I was grateful for. Additionally, I loved to do some gardening, some meditation, and just really focusing on being in the present moment. [The] past was too hard to bear and the future was just way too overwhelming.”

— Aisha Patterson, diagnosed with stage II breast cancer

Learn more here about the benefits of seeing a therapist (even if you don't have a mental health problem).

Write it all down

“When I was diagnosed with cancer, I just took all those emotions, all those fears, to paper, and would just write, write, write, stream of conscious, just let it pour out, and I love it, because the paper doesn't judge me. [It] doesn't say I'm doing this right or wrong. It just creates space for me to cathartically let that out.”

— Bethany Webb, diagnosed with stage II breast cancer, then stage IV breast cancer

Keep track of what works — and what doesn’t

“I also maintained a chemo journal… I would write [how] I feel right now in this hour, and I even tracked what foods I ate. [I would write] if something didn't sit well in my stomach, [or] if taking really long walks after treatment helped me feel better. I wrote all of that down, and that was absolutely a ritual for me.”

— Lexi Mestas, diagnosed with ovarian cancer

Take care of yourself as a caregiver

“As long as you tend to yourself as a caregiver, then I feel that you're going to be able to give all you can to the patient, whoever that may be. During those late nights, early mornings, those are times when I found the most stillness. I was able to be with myself, with my thoughts, without any interruption whatsoever… I can just really channel any emotion that I have or any problems that I have. I can really sit with them and be myself.”

— DJ Patterson, partner and caregiver to Aisha

Learn more here about how to prevent caregiver burnout.

Be emotionally sound as a caregiver

“In order to be the most efficient advocate for your child or loved one, you have to be emotionally sound for the journey, whether that be going for a walk in the woods and simply listening to the wind, to the rustle of leaves. It may sound like a small step in trying to detoxify your stress, but it's actually a giant leap.”

— Stephen Pecevich, father of a brain cancer survivor

What should I do if my stress is unmanageable?

Talk to your doctor, cancer care team, or a mental health professional if you feel like you need more emotional support during your cancer journey. Many cancer facilities have therapists or social workers on staff that specialize in helping people with cancer.

There are also group therapy options in many hospitals and cities. These support groups might help you feel more understood and validated because you’ll get to talk to people who are going through similar things as you.

Either way, don’t struggle with stress on your own. There are many people who can help you through this difficult time. Having tools for coping with stress can make cancer treatment easier and lower your risk of mental health issues.