Medical treatments and complementary therapies are not the only way to control symptoms. They are only one part of treatment.
Sometimes the simplest ways of making you feel more comfortable are overlooked. There are a lot of things that you and other people can do to help you feel better.
The way you sit or lie down can affect some symptoms (such as a cough or swollen legs), and what feels comfortable at first may be uncomfortable 15-20 minutes later. Family or friends can help you change position as often as necessary. This will also reduce the risk of your skin becoming sore and inflamed as a result of sitting or lying still in one position for long periods.
It’s important to change your position regularly.
Sheets or bedding may need to be tidied or changed too. People feel a lot better when they get back into a cool bed with fresh bed linen. V-shaped pillows or supports can help to reduce back and neck ache, and a bed cradle can keep the weight of blankets off aching limbs.
Your district nurse may be able to get a pressure-relieving mattress and cushion for you. Other people from your care team, such as a physiotherapist or occupational therapist, can provide special equipment to help with movement and sitting. There are also organisations that supply equipment.
Watching TV, listening to music or chatting to a friend will not make your symptoms go away, but it can help distract your attention from them, at least for a time. If you’re feeling low, it’s tempting to avoid people’s company. But even short periods of entertainment and conversation can help raise your spirits and help you cope better with symptoms. Short, regular visits from relatives and friends are probably better than longer ones. They’re less tiring, they help to break up the day and they’re something to look forward to.
Because anxiety and depression can make some symptoms (such as breathlessness) worse, it can help to talk about your worries and fears with people who are close to you. Acknowledge the emotions you‘re feeling and try not to bottle things up.
It’s perfectly natural to feel a whole range of powerful emotions, including depression, when you have cancer. Talking through your feelings with your partner, a relative or a close friend can be very helpful. If you don’t feel able to talk to them, perhaps because it upsets you both too much, you can ask your GP to put you in touch with a counsellor or you can contact a support organisation.
You might also find it helpful to talk to other people with cancer. Talking to people who are in a similar situation to you can help you feel less isolated. Call our cancer support specialists, find out about support groups in your area, or visit the community where you can chat with other people who have cancer and read through the posts or blogs other people have written.
You may find our section about the emotional effects of cancer helpful.
You may be anxious about your treatment or worried about coping at home. You may have financial problems. Often, relatives or friends can help by getting more information from doctors and nurses, or by finding out about services that can help. Sometimes there’s little that they can say or do, but just being there to listen and understand can be enough. Emotional pain can make it harder to cope with any physical symptoms that occur.
It’s often hard to accept or understand why an illness like cancer should happen in your life. People often have feelings of guilt, and worry about how the cancer will affect their family now and in the future. Sometimes the strength of these emotions may make you feel isolated and frightened, and make you withdraw from family and friends. It can help to talk to someone about these feelings.
Religion and spirituality
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Serious illness can force people to take stock of their life, and sometimes to question its meaning. Some people who have religious beliefs may find their faith severely shaken by their cancer diagnosis. People who don’t see themselves as religious may begin to ask spiritual questions. People often ask questions like ‘Is there life after death?’ and ‘Why should the people I love suffer?’
Some people find great comfort in religion at this time, and it may help them to talk to a local minister, hospital or hospice chaplain or other religious leader. If you don’t feel that this is the right type of support for you, talking with family and friends or a counsellor may help. The British Humanist Association runs local groups and provides information for people who aren’t religious. A cancer support group may be another source of support. We can give you details of local support groups.