The Transformative Power of Self-Compassion, Gratitude, and Kindness in Cancer


The 3 fundamental coping mechanisms patients should have embedded into their care plan are self-compassion, gratitude, and kindness.

The Transformative Power of Self-Compassion, Gratitude, and Kindness in Cancer

The Transformative Power of Self-Compassion, Gratitude, and Kindness in Cancer

Nearly all patients with cancer will face significant emotional and psychological challenges throughout their cancer journey. These challenges can develop in the early stages of their diagnosis, while they pursue treatment, or during their transition into survivorship. An influx of different emotions is standard among those who have received a cancer diagnosis.

For some, these feelings can become exacerbated by the diagnosis and develop into more severe mental health concerns. Research indicates that psychological disorders such as anxiety, anger, and depression are often more severe in these patients than physical complications.1 Therefore, these individuals must be mindful of their needs and build a solid comprehension of effective coping strategies.

The 3 fundamental coping mechanisms patients should have embedded into their care plan are self-compassion, gratitude, and kindness. This article will illustrate the transformative power of these mechanisms for cancer patients. It will provide oncology professionals with the appropriate foundation to foster these qualities in their patients.

The Role of Self-Compassion in Cancer Care

Self-compassion can be defined as the positive self-attitude that protects against the negative consequences of self-judgment, isolation, and rumination.2 Self-compassion in patients with cancer has been shown to decrease the potential risks adverse psychological outcomes. For example, a longitudinal study of 153 patients found that the positive aspects of self-compassion are beneficial for these patients and their future functioning by yielding fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue over time.3

While tending to patients with cancer, oncology nurses can acknowledge their patients’ strengths and emphasize the significance of cultivating self-compassion. Some practical strategies may include guided meditations, reflective journaling, and patient education about self-kindness versus self-judgment.

Adopting this approach enhances the patient's well-being and inspires the nurse, leading to increased job satisfaction. Another study of 289 patients receiving chemotherapy found significant positive correlations between quality of life, self-compassion, and mindfulness.4 This study illustrates the significance of self-compassion for patients with cancer and the integrative approach oncology nurses can take while caring for this population.

Gratitude – A Pathway to Emotional Resilience

A cancer diagnosis can evoke profound gratitude, prompting individuals to appreciate life's moments, relationships, and resilience. Like self-compassion, gratitude can be utilized as another healthy coping mechanism for cancer patients. Gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself, which can benefit both the patient and the medical professional.

Research indicates that feeling thankful can enhance sleep quality, mood, and immunity.5 In addition, gratitude is known to decrease depression, anxiety, and difficulties associated with chronic pain and risk of disease.5 There are several ways oncology nurses can integrate the concept of gratitude into their everyday practice with patients.

One example may be highlighting the importance of keeping a gratitude journal while they are in active treatment. Sometimes, treatment side effects can be debilitating to one's physical health, which will most likely impact their emotional and mental well-being. However, maintaining a gratitude journal on those problematic days may decrease those negative feelings and motivate them to persevere. Other examples of implementing this practice may be sharing gratitude in conversations or recognizing patients' small victories.

Kindness – Fostering Connections and Support

In healthcare settings, kindness is deeply appreciated by patients but often overlooked. A study aimed at defining kindness in healthcare found that actions such as greeting patients with a smile, asking about their daily lives, listening carefully, and showing interest significantly correlated with the patient's perception of kindness.6 Additionally, the physician being perceived as kind was also correlated to the patient subjectively reporting improvement after their visit.6

Kindness can lead to improved staff and patient satisfaction, as well as patient engagement. Oncology nurses can facilitate kindness through conversations with their patients and their family members. They may also encourage patients to join peer support groups, organize volunteer services, or arrange visits for pet therapy. Another publication emphasized the 6 types of kindness, including deep listening, empathy, generous acts, timely care, gentle honesty, and support for family caregivers.7 Altogether, kindness can be shown throughout a cancer patient's journey in numerous ways, but the delivery is what is most important.

Patients with cancer face many physical and emotional challenges throughout their diagnosis, which can be debilitating to their everyday lives. Through evidence-based interventions, self-compassion, gratitude, and kindness have proven to improve the quality of life for patients with cancer. Oncology nurses can play a vital role in implementing these tools daily with patients and their loved ones.


  1. Pedram M, Mohammadi M, Naziri G, Aeinparast N. Effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral group therapy on the treatment of anxiety and depression disorders and on raising hope in women with breast cancer. Q J Women Soc. 2010;1:34–61.
  2. Neff, K. Self-compassion: an alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Psychology Press. 2003;2:85-102.10.1080/15298860390129863
  3. Zhu L, Yao J, Wang J, et al. The predictive role of self-compassion in cancer patient’s symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue: a longitudinal study. Psychooncology. 2019;28(9):1918-1925. doi:10.1002/pon.5174
  4. Wei L, Xie J, Wu L, Yao J, Zhu L, Liu A. Profiles of self-compassion and psychological outcomes in cancer patients. Psychooncology. 2023;32(1):25-33. doi:10.1002/pon.5931
  5. Can expressing gratitude improve your mental, physical health? Mayo Clinic Health System. December 6, 2022. Accessed December 14, 2023.
  6. Hake, AB, Post, SG. Kindness: Definitions and a pilot study for the development of a kindness scale in healthcare. PLoS one. 2023;18(7):e0288766. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0288766
  7. Berry, LL, Danaher, TS, Chapman, RA, Awdish, RL. Role of kindness in cancer care. J Oncol Pract. 2017;13(11):744-750. doi:10.1200/JOP.2017.026195
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