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Cancer Survivors & Stress Management

[fa icon="calendar"] Jun 16, 2020 10:00:00 AM / by Calvin Leong

Being diagnosed with cancer is very stressful and distressing. As a cancer survivor, you are likely to be facing a lot of health changes as well as challenges in many other areas of your life. How you handle the stress that comes with these challenges can make a big difference in your health and well-being? Read the article to find out!

Cancer Diagnosis. Medical Concept with Composition of Medicaments - Red Pills, Injections and Syringe. Selective Focus. 3D Render.

What Types Of Stress Are Common For A Cancer Survivor?

Cancer survivors may experience many types of stress:

Emotional stress. You may feel a wide range of emotions. At times, you may feel thankful and relieved, and other times you may feel angry, afraid, guilty, or depressed. You may also feel what is called survivor guilt because you survived when others with cancer did not. Cancer survivors, caregivers, and loved ones may also develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can affect people who have survived an event that has threatened their life.

Financial stress. Cancer can cause financial hardship in many ways, such as:

    • Lost income from time off work.
    • Treatment costs, especially for people who lack health insurance coverage.
    • The cost of nursing care or child care if family support is lacking.


Interpersonal stress. When you have cancer, it affects your whole family. Family and friends may feel helpless. Spouses or others often take on more duties, and children may worry about you and the family’s future. Your own stress may change the way you interact with others.

Work-related stress. Going back to work takes planning and can be tiring. Co-workers may not know what to say, or they may wonder how your return will affect them. Answering questions about your cancer and treatment may make you feel uncomfortable.

Woman suffering from stress or a headache grimacing in pain as she holds the back of her neck with her other hand to her temple, with copyspace

Why Is It Important To Manage Stress?

When you experience high levels of stress over a long period, it can affect your mind and body. It may affect your body's ability to heal properly and to fight off illness. It can also affect how your body responds to cancer treatments. Using strategies to cope with stress during and after cancer treatment can lead to lower levels of depression, anxiety, and other symptoms.

How Can I Effectively Manage Stress?

Finding ways to manage stress is an important part of living with cancer. Try these steps to help manage the various types of stress you may be experiencing:


Emotional stress management

Speak with your health care provider about your stress level and how you are managing it. Be honest. If you need help, your health care provider may refer you to another professional, such as a psychologist, social worker, chaplain, or psychiatrist.

With help from your health care provider, you can also try:

  • Relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing.
  • Counselling or talk therapy.
  • Medicines for depression or anxiety.
  • Writing about your feelings. Keeping a journal can help you let go of worries and fears.
  • Exercise or other physical activities. Talk with your health care provider about what activities are safe for you. Options may include:
    • Walking for a few minutes each day.
    • Dancing, gardening, or other enjoyable activities.
    • Strength training.
    • Yoga or tai chi.

Portrait of a casual pretty woman meditating on the floor on gray background

Financial stress management

  • Speak with the hospital's social worker, business office, or financial manager. They may be able to help you set up a payment plan or may know of resources that can help with transportation, home care, and other expenses.
  • Speak with your insurance company about what kinds of treatment and care options are covered each step of the way. Ask if a case manager can be assigned to you so you can consult the same person each time you have questions.
  • Speak with your health care provider about generic drugs, patient assistance programs, and other measures that can help reduce costs in your treatment plan.
  • Stay on track with your follow-up plan of care to help avoid more health problems and hospital stays.
  • Reach out to your bank and the companies you owe money to. They may be able to set up payment plans and other options during financial hardship.
  • Organize your hospital bills, insurance statements, and other financial information in order to track and find information easily. For instance, you can have a separate folder for different kinds of paperwork. You can also organize folders electronically on your computer.

Blue Ring Binder with Inscription Budget Planning on Background of Working Table with Office Supplies and Laptop. Budget Planning Business Concept on Blurred Background. 3D Render.

Interpersonal stress management

  • Accept help when it is offered. Make a list of things you might need help with, and let others decide how they can assist you.
  • Ask for help if you need it. Friends and family may want to help but feel uncomfortable taking the initiative. To give your caregivers a break, you could also look for paid help or check with organizations in your community, such as charities, religious organizations, or cancer support groups.
  • Do as much as you can for yourself, with approval from your health care provider. Staying active, taking care of yourself, being social, and doing things you enjoy can help you feel better sooner.
  • Let your caregivers, family, and friends know that you are thankful for them and their help.

Women embracing in rehab group at therapy session

Work-related stress management

  • Do not take on too much too soon. Speak with your employer about options such as part-time hours, job sharing, unpaid time off, or frequent breaks to take medicine or to see a health care provider. You may be protected by laws for disabled employees.
  • Think about how much you want to tell your co-workers about your illness. Keeping your explanation simple and positive can help you and your co-workers feel more at ease.
  • If you are not yet comfortable with certain questions or comments, politely say so.
  • Try to think of any comments that might bother you, and decide how you will respond.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • Stress is interfering with your life and relationships.
  • You would like a referral to a mental health specialist or other resources.
  • You need help with transportation, home care, or other needs. Your health care team may know of resources in the community.

Get help right away if:

  • You have a sense of panic or are overwhelmed with stress, sadness, or anxiety.
  • You have thoughts of wanting to die or harm yourself or others in some way.


  • Recovering from cancer is stressful. Using coping strategies may make a difference.
  • Your finances, relationships, and work life will change, and you may need help and time to adjust.
  • Seek and accept help from your health care provider, mental health professionals, loved ones, and community resources if needed.
  • Do what you can for yourself, and let others know that you are thankful for their help.
  • If you feel overwhelmed by stress, sadness, or anxiety, get professional help right away.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.


Bibby et al., 2017. Bibby H., White V., Thompson K., and Anazodo A.: What are the unmet needs and care experiences of adolescent and young adults with cancer? A systematic review. J. Adolesc. Young Adult Oncol. 2017; 6: pp. 6-30

Cordova et al., 2017. Cordova M.J., Riba M.B., and Spiegel D.: Post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer. Lancet Psychiatr. 2017; 4: pp. 330-338

Davies and Batehup, 2011. Davies N.J., and Batehup L.: Towards a personalised approach to aftercare: a review of cancer follow-up in the UK. J. Cancer. Surviv. 2011; 5: pp. 142-151

Jefford et al., 2013. Jefford M., Rowland M., Grunfeld E., Richards M., Maher J., and Glaser A.: Implementing improved post-treatment care for cancer survivors in England, with reflections from Australia, Canada and the USA. Br. J. Canc. 2013; 108: pp. 14-20

Williamson et al., 2018. Williamson S., Hack T., Bangee M., Benedetto V., and Beaver K.: The Holistic Needs Assessment in Cancer Care: Identifying Barriers and Facilitators to Implementation in the UK and Canada. Psycho-oncology 2018

You et al., 2018. You J., Lu Q., Zvolensky M.J., Meng Z., Garcia K., and Cohen L.: Anxiety- and health-related quality of life among patients with breast cancer: a cross-cultural comparison of China and the United States. J. Glob. Oncol. 2018; 4: pp. 1-9


For more information about cancer survivorship, visit:

National Cancer Society Malaysia

National Cancer Council - MAKNA

Cancerlink Foundation

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Topics: Wellness

Calvin Leong

Written by Calvin Leong

Calvin Leong holds a Master in Medical Education from the University of Dundee, United Kingdom. He is certified in Clinical Wound Care by the ASEAN Wound Care Association. Calvin has 20 years of clinical and lecturing experience focusing on Mentoring in Healthcare, Traumatology and Medical Sciences. Calvin is HRDC certified trainer. He is also a Life Member of The Malaysian Association for the Study of Pain (MASP) and the Malaysian Society of Wound Care Professionals (MSWCP).

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