How to Strengthen Your Mental Health After A Cancer Diagnosis

The word ‘Cancer’ is daunting. It’s intimidating and frightening. Not everyone knows what it is, but most know what it does. It can tear entire families apart, change lives forever, or even take lives. To undergo the gauntlet of cancer is as much a mental trial as it is a physical one. It tests those all around you, even people you’ve never met before. Being prepared mentally is the true foundation of battling cancer and is a tool that is all too often overlooked.

I remember when I was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It was a shock to my system, an unwanted piece of news that I had never in my life expected to hear. I left the doctor’s office in a daze and quietly approached the front desk. There, I locked eyes with a receptionist, who raised an eyebrow in inquiry. Everything shattered, then, and that single human expression shoved me into nearly uncontrollable sobs. Her face instantly tensed, and she looked as lost as I felt at that moment.

For days after my diagnosis, I felt helpless and alone. It was as though my very soul had been crushed beneath the weight of cancer. There is nothing more debilitating than such a feeling, which has the potential to cause depression, anxiety, and other related mental illnesses. 

The key to finding myself and rising up from the burden of such a devastating disease was my personal mental health. Mental health is one of the greatest weapons we as humans have access to. It – among other things - allows us to get out of bed every morning, eat breakfast, practice personal hygiene, and live our lives each and every day. It doesn’t come easy, however, and I have comprised a short list of some of the most useful elements to keep your mental health strong in the wake of cancer. While some of these tools may seem generic or obvious, they are a fantastic foundation and defense against a crumbling mental state.

1) Support System

There is no better time to have a support system than when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. A support system isn’t necessarily family, either. It can just as easily be close friends or even co-workers you trust. Pets are also a wonderful support system that can help stabilize your mental strength.

2) Exercise

There is nothing more rewarding to your body and your mind than moving. Exercise gets the blood flowing and releases endorphins. It also strengthens your heart and your muscles and promotes a better night’s sleep.

3) Sleep

This may seem counterproductive, but sleep is the body and mind’s way of repairing damage and processing thoughts, including trauma. Getting between seven and eight hours of sleep a night really has more potential than anything else to allow you to function during your waking hours.

4) Meditation and Mindfulness

Staying grounded is one of the toughest parts of normal everyday life. It becomes even more challenging when faced with a potentially life-threatening disease. Everyone is different, but most benefit from a quiet place away from human traffic and noise. Breathing exercises and mental imaging go hand in hand with meditation and mindfulness and are just as helpful.

5) Your Passion

This may seem out of place, which is why I listed it last. In truth, having a passion in your life can mean the difference between mental health and mental instability. Your passion is what you love to do. It can be anything from writing in a journal every day to playing on a sports team. It can be as simple as walking through a field of flowers or as complex as immersing yourself in difficult math problems. Your passion is an immense part of you and can even be considered a part of your support system. 

As formidable as cancer is, there are many weapons that are used to defeat its negative impact on mental health. The combination of support, exercise, a good night’s rest, meditation, and passion can create a positive and uplifting force inside of you or someone you know, which in turn can give them the hope and the motivation they require in order to move forward. No matter how strong the disease, human will and your desire to thrive are far more powerful; all it takes is for you to believe.