Coping and Living With Cancer

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Cancer is a diagnosis which affects many individuals each year, but it is no longer regarded as strictly terminal. More Americans with cancer are surviving due to improved technological advances. While this is a positive turn of events, the increased survival rate leaves many more individuals to cope with the toll cancer takes on the body and mind.

cancer coping strategies

Verywell / Tim Liedtke


Depression, anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, fear of disease recurrence, impaired body image, and loss of motivation are just some of the mental health changes which may result from cancer.

While these mental health struggles may be devastating, they are part of the disease course. Individuals should tap into their support systems and seek the necessary services to decrease the impact these mental health symptoms have on their function.

If mental health issues such as depression or anxiety persist long after cancer has been treated or in remission, this may be a time to consult with your healthcare provider.

There is no suggested time frame to do so, however, it is important to seek this help if there is any point you feel there is no resolution to your symptoms.


Taking care of yourself physically is imperative, both when being treated for cancer and beyond. Good self-care makes you feel better physically and will give your mood a much-needed boost.


Not only can physical activity lower the risk of developing cancer, it can also assist in the treatment of cancer. Physical activity of any kind—walking, biking, hiking, yoga, weight lifting, swimming, and more—can assist with balancing hormone levels, lowering the risk of obesity, and improving the immune system.

All of these factors, when not controlled and managed, can contribute to the development of cancer. Physical activity also is known to have a positive relationship with the management of mental health symptoms, assisting with both emotional coping and overall mental function.


There is no strong evidence directly supporting the idea that a balanced diet prevents cancer. Despite this, a healthy diet with adequate vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants does lower the risk of obesity and improves the function of the immune system.

Both of these are known to have an impact on a person’s risk of developing cancer, therefore it is good practice to encourage the use of a healthy diet as part of a wellness plan for someone with cancer.

Rehabilitation Services

Rehabilitation such as occupational, physical, and speech therapies can assist an individual with regaining strength and functional health status, which is often indicated for an individual with cancer.

These services can also provide a variety of resources to assist with community reintegration, medication management, driving rehabilitation, workplace or educational accommodations, and more. Consult your healthcare provider for more information and other resources to help your specific circumstances.


Any of the aforementioned mental health issues may impact the social relationships and interaction skills of a person with cancer. They may have difficulty reintegrating into work or school environment, or continuing friendships and romantic relationships with the same role.

It may be more difficult to relate to others who have not had the same medical experiences and issues such as impaired body image may further impact confidence in social settings. Conversely, individuals with cancer may find themselves with a renewed sense of spirituality.

Social supports for a person with cancer may include a spiritual community, support groups, modified school roles, psychotherapy or counseling, or resources through a place of work or educational institution.

Support groups can be in-person, through online chat rooms or webinars, or telephone support groups, as to provide more resources to those who may have barriers to transportation or social skills.

Social clubs and group classes may also be a part of your local gym, which encourages physical activity along with the aspect of companionship and social interaction with individuals who have shared goals.

For Caregivers

Those who partake in caregiving for someone with cancer should also be mindful of their mental health and role fulfillment. This is important for self-preservation along with the caregiver’s ability to continue assisting their loved one.

There are also support groups which assist both individuals in a caregiving relationship to maintain a bond and strengthen their relationship as a unit.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis?

    People receive the news they or a loved one has cancer in a wide variety of ways. Emotions can range from anger, fear, and guilt to hopefulness and gratitude. What's important is recognizing them, accepting them as normal, and finding constructive ways to deal with them. If you're unsure where to turn, the National Cancer Institute is a helpful resource for coping strategies for the emotions that arise from a cancer diagnosis.

  • How can I help a friend or loved one with terminal cancer?

    Start by finding out what kind of help they need most. This will help you identify the ways you can be most helpful. For example, you can focus on providing practical support (paying bills, managing health insurance issues, doing household chores) or you may be needed to give medicine or provide transportation to palliative care treatments. Most important, you can be a loving and attentive ear.

  • What are the best ways to deal with cancer pain?

    People experiencing mild to moderate discomfort may get relief from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or Tylenol (acetaminophen). More severe pain may require more aggressive treatments, such as opioid medication, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, steroids, or nerve blocks. Meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, and other complementary therapies also may be helpful.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Caregiving basics.

  2. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Treating cancer pain.

Additional Reading

By Brittany Ferri
Brittany Ferri, MS, OTR-L, CCTP, is an occupational therapist, consultant, and author specializing in psychosocial rehab.