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What you can do

Coping with cancer

This page tells you about how you can help yourself when you have cancer. There is information about

 

How you may feel

A lot of people feel helpless when they are first told they have cancer. You may feel that you are in the hands of doctors and hospitals, and that there is nothing you can do for yourself. But there are many things you and your family can do. You can find information about coping with feelings in the coping emotionally section.

 

Understanding your illness

You can find out about your type of cancer on this website. You can also find out about cancer treatments. Understanding your illness and its treatment will help you and your family to

  • Do something to help yourself
  • Know what to expect

As no two people are the same, it is best to talk to someone who really knows about cancer, like your hospital doctor or specialist nurse. When you go to the doctor, it may help to

  • Make a list of questions before you go
  • Take someone with you to remind you what you wanted to ask and help remember the answers

If there are specialist cancer nurses where you are being treated, you can 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.

 

Finding and joining a support or self help 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. Some groups are for people with a specific type of cancer, such as a breast care group or laryngectomy club. If there is more than one group in your area, you might find it helpful to contact a few to see which one suits you best.

You can find a group by contacting some of the organisations on our general organisations page. Or you can search the directory of cancer support groups on the Macmillan Cancer Support website. Your GP surgery or hospital may be able to tell you where your nearest group is. 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.

Activities vary a lot. Groups may provide

  • Regular meetings where people talk about having cancer
  • Social activities
  • Speakers to 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 may charge for tea and biscuits or welcome donations for the complementary therapies or counselling they offer.

When you go to a group, you will be warmly welcomed and 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. If you're not comfortable in groups, or you live some distance away, you could also arrange to meet other members individually, or perhaps talk to them over the phone.

 

Practical and positive things

When you are having treatment, or recovering, you may 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
  • 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. This may be done by

  • Planning a healthy, well balanced diet
  • Learning relaxation techniques
  • Taking some regular exercise

Only do these things if you want to, and only if they make you feel better. Well meaning friends or relatives may make all sorts of suggestions about what you can do. But you don't have to make any sudden or drastic changes to your lifestyle. If you have recently been diagnosed and treated, you may feel you have had enough change for a while.

If you do decide to exercise

  • Build up slowly
  • Set realistic targets
  • Base the type of exercise, how strenuous it is and how often you do it, on what you are used to and how well you feel

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 had worked for them, including

  • Making lists of questions for your cancer doctor, GP, or specialist nurse
  • Asking about sources of information and support when you go to the hospital – otherwise you may not be told
  • Trying not to dwell on the cancer
  • Making the most of what you have – do the things you've put off in the past
  • Not making too many life changes at one time
  • Joining a local exercise class

These are very varied suggestions, as you can see. Our page of general cancer organisations lists some that can give you information about what you can do to help yourself.

 

Help and support

You may have questions about your cancer, treatment, or where to get support. You can phone the Cancer research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use CancerChat, our online forum. Or you could go through My Wavelength. This is a free service that aims to put people with similar medical conditions in touch with each other.

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Updated: 15 November 2012