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Coping With Cancer

Ten steps on how cancer patients can cope up with their disease.

One of the best ways to overcome the challenges of cancer is tackling it head on. Until recently, coping—or the attitudes and behaviors we use to adjust to illness—received little attention from health care professionals. So Andrew Kneier, a clinical psychologist, and Ernest Rosenbaum, an oncologist at the Mount Zion Cancer Center at the University of California at San Francisco, devised 10 steps, helping patients face the condition—and improve physical health. Here's a short list:

  • Maintain optimism. Being positive about a potentially terminal illness is easier said than done. But studies show that trying to keep a bright outlook helps patients cope better than those who are pessimistic.
  • Strike a balance. Know that the situation may get better, but understand what could go wrong. This realistic balance of expectations will help you prepare for future outcomes.
  • Express your emotions. Staying upbeat doesn't mean squelching your fear and anger. Letting out your true emotions and asking yourself how you really feel is both psychologically and immunologically healthy.
  • Reach for support. Don't try to be stoic or to spare friends your grief. But don't assume you need a personal cheerleader. Good support comes from those who listen and stick by you no matter what.
  • Participate. Instead of passively accepting what lies ahead, ask your physician about alternative treatment options or natural remedies, read up on the disease and know that your attitudes and behavior impact the course of your illness. This belief, called "self-efficacy," has documented emotional benefits.