What you can do to help yourself

It can be overwhelming when you first find out that you have cancer. You might have a range of emotions as time goes on. You might feel that you're in the hands of doctors and hospitals and that there’s nothing you can do for yourself. But there are practical things you can do to help you cope.

Understanding your illness

Understanding your cancer and its treatment can help you, your family and friends to:

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

When you go to the hospital it helps to talk directly to someone who can answer your particular questions. For example, your hospital doctor or specialist cancer nurse.

It might help to:

  • make a list of questions before you go
  • take someone with you if this is possible. They can remind you what you wanted to ask and help remember the answers

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 and your treatment, so you know what to expect.

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

Keeping healthy

You might find it difficult to do all the things you used to when you are having treatment or recovering. Try to do a little more each day taking one step at a time. Doing things that make you feel better keeps you healthy and helps with your recovery.

It can help to:

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

There is a lot of information available about keeping healthy during and after treatment for cancer. You may find it difficult to know where to start. But even small changes to your diet and exercise can make a difference.

If you have any problems with eating and you are losing weight, contact your GP or healthcare team at hospital. It is important to get help as soon as you start to have problems.  

Exercising regularly can also improve how you feel about your cancer and its treatment. Choose an activity you enjoy and:

  • 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

Joining a support group

Joining a support group in your area can put you in touch with people who know what you are going through.

Each group is different. Most are for people with all types of cancer, as well as their 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. Others are much larger.

Some groups are free to join, but others may have a small charge. For example, to cover the cost of refreshments provided at the meeting.

Activities at support 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
  • online support groups
  • telephone support lines
  • help to access social or health services

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.

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. 

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