When the devastating news of a chronic or terminal disease such as cancer is communicated by a doctor, a patient often experiences extreme shock, trauma, even denial. Denial is a natural emotional response that patients display until they are ready to cope with, and eventually accept imminent life changes.
There is no “normal” amount of time a patient should spend in the state of disbelief. However, once a patient passes through this natural phase, the following tips on ways to cope with disease may assist in working through the process of disease acceptance.
- Understand that patients experience a plethora of overwhelming emotions during this time, so it is important to maintain involvement with supportive and loving family and friends.
- Seek the assistance of a qualified professional mental health counselor for individual and family therapy, in light of concern that the family is also feeling the pain of the diagnosis.
- Learn about the diagnosis and accepted treatment protocols through books, articles, journals or websites.
- Maintain a regular routine of appropriate diet and exercise.
- Practice meditation during time alone to assist in coping with anxiety, fear, guilt, anger, and confusion.
- Utilize stress management exercises such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep abdominal breathing, and visualization.
- Continue to maintain involvement in activities that are pleasurable, and provide social interaction.
- Invite a close friend or relative to medical appointments to assist in expressing and retrieving important medical information related to the disease.
- Engage in spiritual or religious practices that will assist in working toward acceptance of the disease.
- Learn the “Radical Acceptance” technique, a mindful approach to healing emotional pain, through “clear seeing and compassion.” Clinical psychologist Tara Brach is a renowned author on this topic. Her book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of Buddha, is a great resource for the radical acceptance technique.
Laura Greenlee, PhD, NCC, LPC