Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center

How to Cope with Cancer and Take Control

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Coping With Cancer and Fear: 7 Things to Remember When Dealing With a Diagnosis 

Everyone experiences a cancer diagnosis differently. Our reactions and emotions are individual and complex. But for all of our uniqueness, one emotion is almost universal: fear.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of complications. Fear of being a burden on loved ones. Fear of death.

Tammy Wynn, board-certified oncology chaplain at UT Southwestern Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, helps people diagnosed with cancer and their families every day. “I’m blessed because I get to hear their stories,” she says. Her work teaches her something new every day. Here are seven things to keep in mind when coping with fear.

1. Begin With Awareness

“Cancer doesn’t just affect a person physically,” Wynn says. “It also affects them emotionally and spiritually. And it ripples through the whole family.” She’s noticed that people begin to cope better with illness once they acknowledge their feelings.

2. Focus on What You Can Control

“You might not be able to change your diagnosis or treatment protocol,” Wynn says. But there are other aspects of your life you can control. “You can choose to be more present in the moments of your life, for example.”

3. Discover Your Own Strength

There’s a quote Wynn often shares: “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” For many people, cancer tests their strength and faith.

“People might start to better understand their own limitations and become more open to them,” she says. “They start to develop incredible coping skills unlike anything they have before.”

4. Tap Into Your Spirituality

A cancer diagnosis can be an awakening of sorts, Wynn says. “Not everyone is religious,” she adds. “But everyone is spiritual – we all have different things that give us joy, love, and hope. And we need to be able to tap into those things to cope with the fear.”

5. Find Purpose Again

“Cancer pulls the rug out from under your feet,” Wynn says. “Spirituality is partly about finding your meaning and purpose.” The cancer experience can lead to new introspection, new questions, and new perceptions of the world.

6. Connect With People Who Love and Care About You

To get through treatment emotionally, physically, and spiritually, it helps to surround yourself with positive people who love you and whom you trust. “And let those people in,” Wynn says.

“Our relationships help ground us,” she adds. “It’s also important to be aware of people who take energy away from you, and stay away from them.” 

7. Let the Experience In

Cancer is a journey, and it can take you to unexpected places. It might challenge your faith. It might force you to rethink your priorities in life. 

“No two journeys are alike,” Wynn says. “Be open to the change that comes, and let this experience in.”

Are You Struggling with a Cancer Diagnosis?

We’re here to help. From chaplain services and support groups to music therapy and one-on-one mentoring, there are various ways we can help you cope. Visit our support services page to learn more.