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What you can do

You can do practical things to help yourself cope with cancer. Understanding your illness and treatment can help. Many people join a support group.

Understanding your illness

A lot of people feel helpless when they first find out they have cancer. You might feel that you're in the hands of doctors and hospitals, and that there’s nothing you can do for yourself. It can help to find out more about your illness.

Understanding your cancer and its treatment will help you and your family to:

  • do something to help yourself
  • know more about what to expect

You can find out about your type of cancer on this website. 

But everyone is different. So it helps to talk directly to someone who can answer your particular questions, like your hospital doctor or specialist cancer nurse.

Talk to them about what you can do to help yourself, and any problems that you might have. They can also give you information about your particular type of cancer.

When you go to the doctor or cancer nurse, it might help to:

  • make a list of questions before you go
  • take someone with you – they can remind you what you wanted to ask and help remember the answers

It can also help to find out about your treatment so you know what to expect.

Joining a support group

There are more than 800 cancer support groups in the UK.

Each group is very different. Most are for people with all types of cancer, as well as carers, family and friends. But some groups are for people with a specific type of cancer, such as a breast care group or laryngectomy club.

There may be more than one group in your area. You could contact a few to see which one suits you best.

What to expect

Some groups are just a few people who meet regularly in a member's front room. Others are much larger and may have their own rooms or a drop in centre.

When you go to a group, you’ll get a warm welcome and be introduced to other members. You will have a chance to talk about yourself and how you have found having cancer.

You don't have to talk about anything you don't want to discuss. It might take a few visits before you feel comfortable enough to talk about personal issues.

You might not be comfortable in groups generally, or you might live some distance away. In this case you could also arrange to meet other members individually, or perhaps talk to them over the phone.

Typical activities

Activities at these groups vary a lot, but might include:

  • regular meetings where people talk about having cancer
  • social activities
  • speakers who give talks
  • counselling
  • complementary therapies
  • home and hospital visits
  • bereavement support
  • telephone support lines
  • help for you to access social or health services

Most groups are free. But some might charge for tea and biscuits. Or they might welcome donations for the complementary therapies or counselling they offer.

How to find a support group

Your GP surgery or hospital might be able to tell you where your nearest group is.

You can also find local help and support on the NHS Choices website.

Practical and positive things

When you are having treatment, or when you're recovering, you might not be able to do all the things you used to. But as you begin to feel better it can help to have a go at simple tasks.

You can try to do a little more each day. Success will give you confidence but remember, take one step at a time.

Many people want to fight their illness. Some like to:

  • plan a healthy, well balanced diet
  • learn relaxation techniques
  • take regular exercise

Only do these things if you want to – and only if they make you feel better.

Well meaning friends or relatives might make suggestions about what you can do. But you don't have to make any sudden or drastic changes to your lifestyle. You might feel you’ve had enough change for a while if you've had a recent diagnosis and treatment.

Tips if you do decide to exercise

  • Build up slowly.
  • Set realistic targets.
  • Base the type, strength and frequency of your exercise on what you're used to and how well you feel.

Tips from support group members

We asked a group of people from a support group what they recommended for this page. The first thing they said was 'Join a support group!'

They also told us what else had worked for them. Here are some of their tips.

  • Make lists of questions for your cancer doctor, GP or specialist nurse.
  • Ask about sources of information and support when you go to the hospital – otherwise they might not think to tell you.
  • Try not to dwell on the cancer.
  • Make the most of what you have – do the things you've put off in the past.
  • Don’t make too many life changes at one time.
  • Join a local exercise class.

Getting help and support

You might have questions about your cancer or treatment. Or you might want to ask where you can get support.

You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on Freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

To find people to share experiences with online, you could use our online forum Cancer Chat. 

Last reviewed: 
11 Jul 2014
  • Information compiled by the Cancer Research UK Patient Information Web Team.

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