Having to deal with a recent diagnosis of cancer can lead to one feeling anxious and worried. The distress can be exacerbated by the uncertainties brought about by the disease, leading to feelings of hopelessness about the future. 

Cancer patients who find it difficult to cope with the reality of the diagnosis do not have to deal with it alone. The same goes for their caregivers who may also struggle with them during the treatment journey. 

Ms Jacinta Phoon Mui Leng, a master medical social worker at the Department of Psychosocial Oncology, National Cancer Centre Singapore, shares what they can do to manage their mental and emotional well-being.

Q: Who can patients turn to for professional support? 

Beyond confiding in loved ones or joining support groups, they can seek help from their care team, especially medical social workers, psychologists or psychiatrists. 

Seeking help from healthcare professionals does not mean that the patients are mentally or emotionally weak. Many do so to cope with day-to-day problems, such as worries about the side effects of treatment, anxiety from practical issues like caring for family members, or being a burden to them. 

Healthcare professionals can conduct therapy sessions and recommend ways to improve coping skills and reshape negative thoughts. They can also recommend relaxation techniques (see below) to help patients relieve stress and feel better. 

Q: What else can cancer patients do to cope with anxiety and stress on their own? 

  • Use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing before or during a difficult situation. 
  • Do light exercises such as brisk walking. 
  • Keep occupied with relaxing activities such as reading or listening to music. 
  • Meditate, pray or engage in other forms of spiritual support activities. 

Q: How can caregivers manage the stress of caregiving on top of daily activities? 

Caring for a loved one with cancer can be mentally and physically challenging. It is important to acknowledge negative feelings and know that it is normal to feel this way. 

Feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, grief, loneliness and anxiety may come and go. Dedicate some time to think through them. 

If these affect daily life, seek help from a family member, friend, spiritual leader or a healthcare professional. 

Q: What can caregivers do to cope better – mentally and emotionally? 

  • Delegate non-essential tasks so they can focus on the important ones. 
  • Share caregiving duties by involving other family members or close friends. 
  • Seek help from hospices, nursing homes or other community organisations. 
  • Join a support group to speak with others who are going through similar experiences. 
  • Write down personal feelings in a journal to help relieve negative thoughts. 
  • Take breaks and make time for exercise or favourite activities. 
  • Take care of their own health and medical needs. 
  • Eat healthy meals and get enough rest. Take naps if caregiving requires staying up at night. 

Ms Jacinta Phoon Mui Leng 
Master Medical Social Worker 
Department of Psychosocial Oncology
National Cancer Centre Singapore