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Monday, October 15, 2012

Five Ways to Relax if You Think You May Have Cancer

At some point, it happens to most of us. One way or the other, you discover that there is something not quite right with your body and the doctor you first see about it tells you that more testing is needed to figure out exactly what is wrong.

Perhaps you found a small lump under your arm, maybe you were told that there was an abnormality on a blood test, or perhaps something came back looking unusual on a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or an ultrasound. Often, the major concern in these situations is that the abnormality may be cancer.  In many cases, a biopsy will be needed to make this determination.

The problem in this situation is that it often takes a considerable amount of time (e.g., weeks to months) before you can get evaluated by a specialist and then undergo the more specific diagnostic tests needed to make final diagnosis. During the interval, it is very common to let your imagination run away with you, especially when researching the issue over the internet, and become convinced that you have a serious medical condition with a poor prognosis. Here are a few tips to help you get through this time:

1. Tell yourself that you will worry when you actually have something to worry about. You may read this and think “but I do have something to worry about. I have a lump and I might have cancer!” The key word there is might, not definitely. Of course, this approach is not designed to reduce all anxiety about the situation because some anxiety is certainly natural. It is a technique, however, to decrease anxiety and remind oneself to focus on what is actually known in the present as opposed to what might happen in the future.

2. Be careful with internet research. While it is natural to type your signs and symptoms into a search engine to research what may be causing a particular problem, be aware that by doing this you are likely to focus on the worst case scenario possibilities as opposed to more benign explanations. Having some information at your fingertips is good, so you can ask knowledgeable questions to your doctor, but try to remember that the doctor will have the education and training to figure out which diagnosis is applicable to your situation and which is not. Of course, not every doctor is perfect or correct, which is why a second opinion can be sought.

3. Do not diagnose yourself. Many people spend weeks to months between appointments in a depressed, anxious, and/or irritable mood because they have been saying such things as “I know I have cancer” or “I know it is multiple sclerosis” without any solid evidence to support it. In many cases, this is a psychological defense mechanism to brace oneself for the worst possible news. However, wouldn’t a better approach be to focus on point #1?

4. Do something to keep you busy. Spending your time between diagnostic evaluations withdrawn, sleeping in bed all day, and isolating yourself from your friends and family only serves to increase depression and despondency. It will also make the time go by much slower. Better to keep yourself engaged in some kind of activity you enjoy that will make the time go by faster.

5. Talk to a trusted friend or family member who is positive. The worst thing you can do is hold all of your emotions in about the situation. Like a teapot filling up with steam with no escape route, the teapot will eventually explode. Talking to someone about your feelings and concerns during this initial stage can be quite a stress reliever and help you see a different side of the situation that you may not have thought about before. 

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