Written by: Mary Brintnall-Peterson, Ph.D., MBP Consulting, LLC, Professor Emeritus, UW-Extension
When doctors mention the “C” word, referencing cancer feelings of uncertainty surface immediately. Uncertainty is a feeling that is always with the cancer victim and the family as they move through the cancer journey. There isn’t anything throughout the cancer journey in which uncertainty isn’t in some form or another. It surfaces during doctor’s appointments, treatments, when making plans, and even during daily activities.
As a mother of a cancer victim, uncertainty is with me every day. Here are some words of wisdom I’ve picked up that might be helpful to you as a caregiver or someone who works with cancer caregivers:
Seek the support of others.
Support can come from good friends with whom you can share your thoughts, knowing they won’t judge you or from a professional counselor. Many of the cancer organizations or cancer hospitals have counselors on staff for both the cancer victim and their caregivers. Join a support group, it can be helpful for some individuals. Support groups can be in a face-to-face situation, on the internet or via a phone call. Decide which type meets your schedule and which one you feel most comfortable. Support groups bring together people in a similar situation and meet regularly to share their experiences. There are even groups for people and their caregivers with specific types of cancers.
Learn as much as possible.
Learning about the type of cancer your family member has will help you be more prepared about what to expect and address some of your uncertainty. You will also be more prepared when meeting with doctors to ask questions. There’s a lot of information out there and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Make sure the resources you use are reputable and look for commonalities in what you find.
Identify a knowledgeable advocate.
This individual can help you understand what the doctor is telling you and help identify questions that need to be asked. This person could also be another doctor or a friend who has a medical background. It could even be someone who has had the type of cancer your family member is dealing with.
Recognize there will be situations you can’t control.
Try to let go of them, which isn’t easy! One way to let go of them is to ask yourself, “can I do anything about this situation?” If the answer is no, then explore what the outcome of the situation might be. Jot down your response to the different outcomes and think about how you might react to them. This activity prepares you for possible outcomes. Sometimes writing things down will keep you from continuing to think about the situation.
Realize that everyone copes with uncertainty.
Cancer just has more uncertainties, but you have dealt with uncertainty in other life situations. Think about those times and reflect on how you coped with them. This reflection could provide insights into how to cope with the uncertainty cancer presents. You have lived with uncertainty in the past and you’ll be able to live with it while caring for someone with cancer.
Be attuned as to how you physically react to uncertainty.
Uncertainty can lead to anxiety and you might experience a fight-or-flight response. Your heart rate may increase, you may have breathing changes, or other physical reactions. You might want to try mindfulness or yoga, both of which use meditation. Sometimes just taking deep breaths can be helpful in settling the body down. Some individuals use exercise as a way to deal with uncertainty and find a workout, walk, or other physical activities release their stress.
Don’t stop living.
Make plans, say yes when you can and make a point of being involved with those who make you happy. Even a short visit with a friend in person or on the phone can help lift your spirits.
Realizing that cancer and uncertainty go hand in hand and determining how to deal with it will help as you navigate the cancer journey.