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How to Face Your Anxiety About Having Cancer

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Mar 29, 2017

When Dr. Stephen Eberwine confirms a positive test result for cancer, he hears a common question from his patients.

They usually first want to know the probabilities of outcome.

“I explain that every case is different. What happens next depends on many factors. Naturally, that creates anxiety about the future,” said Dr. Eberwine, oncologist at the Johnson Memorial Cancer Care Center.

Anxiety can be a challenging hurdle in the cancer journey. Studies continue to show that mental health plays a critical role in a cancer patient’s response to treatment, according to Cancer.net.


While every cancer patient deals with fear, excessive anxiety can be detrimental.

WebMD.com says patients who experience extreme fear, might be “unable to absorb information given to them by caregivers, or be unable to follow through with treatment. “

When anxiety causes insomnia or triggers depressive behaviors like not eating, it can cause physical harm during a time when patients need their strength.

The causes of anxiety about cancer usually center on the obvious:

  • Facing one’s mortality and wondering if treatments will cure the disease or, at least, manage it.
  • Fearing the side effects of treatments, especially chemotherapy that can cause pain, nausea or fatigue.
  • Worrying about remission. What happens if you win the fight – only to have the cancer return.
  • Impacting your quality of life. You may have big plans for your career or a family vacation, and you worry about the ability to handle them while undergoing treatment.

So, while a qualified healthcare team works on the physical aspects of the cancer care, it is equally important that cancer patients concentrate on their mental health. Accepting and dealing with the fear is a good start.

Here are some ways to face and cope with that anxiety.

Build a strong mental health team – similar to your physical care team. Start with a therapist or counselor who is trained in this area. A circle of family and friends can provide emotional support. However, a trained counselor can help with proven processes. Click here for mental health resources in the Johnson County area.

Find a support group. No one knows better about the real fears of cancer than someone who has walked that path. They understand the anxiety and can advise what helped calm their waters.

Join a credible online support network. Anxiety strikes at all hours. A counselor or support group may not be available at 3 a.m. when worry interrupts sleep. Many online networks offer support 24/7. Click here for recommended online communities by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Stay off Google. Naturally, information about cancer disease and treatment is helpful. The internet can provide lots of valuable resources. It also can take to users to places their minds shouldn’t wander. Cancer care providers and counselors can recommend credible sites to visit.

Consider medicine or biotherapy. While anxiety medicines sometimes get bad press, there are many options that are non-addictive and help at mild doses. Biofeedback and meditation are natural ways to settle the mind.

The fear might never go away. Managing it, though, is very doable and healthy.

For more information about dealing with cancer anxiety, contact the Johnson Memorial Cancer Care Center at 317.736.4436.

Topics: Cancer