Life has a lot of uncertainties, but what can you do to help the emotional state of mind?

Life is full of uncertainties. However, when you add in a cancer diagnosis, it changes the game. I hear from many survivors about all the emotions they go through once someone says, “you have cancer.” They begin to question everything. Nothing has a black and white answer and many feel like they have no control over their life anymore. It’s the “what ifs”, the “buts” and even the question of “can I beat this” that can make a patient feel like they are emotionally unstable. Many times survivors just want to hear “yes this is normal” or “it’s going to be ok”, but most of all they want someone to listen to them. Uncertainty is the most stressful feeling to have. Listening and providing ways to express and manage feelings are two of the most important parts of a survivorship program.

What are ways you have found to help patients with their feelings?

The quote, “Breathing and thinking are the two most important processes, one for sustaining life and other for giving it a purpose” by Tasneem Hameed is so true. Breathing is natural for us, but can be difficult at times. I think many of us take the benefits of breathing for granted. We recently started to offer a weekly Tai Chi class for survivors at our Survivorship Center. I decided to attend a class with them and found out that focused breathing is more difficult than I thought.

Tai Chi was developed in China as a martial art for self-defense nearly 2,000 years ago. This exercise uses slow, smooth body movements to achieve a state of relaxation of both your body and mind and focuses on deep breathing also know as a qi gong. Tai Chi has been proven to help decrease stress, anxiety and depression and helps improve mood, energy and balance. There are also studies that suggest that Tai Chi improves quality of sleep, overall well being, and boost the immune system.

Although the physical aspect of the exercise was not hard at all, (even for those that are not physically fit) the mental benefits were felt. By focusing on that one moment and being in the present, I was forcing my mind not to think about the future, the “what if’s”, the “buts”, or about the hundred other things I needed to be doing. I have to admit that it was very relaxing. Tai Chi could have many benefits to those suffering from any illness and especially those that have cancer. It helps them focus on what they can control. You have to push all the negative thoughts away and only worry about deep breathing and the smooth body movements. As I watched the survivors in this class they were all able to be in the moment and not worry about anything else. Their uncertainties were gone for that moment.

How many times do you as a healthcare provider pay attention to the patient’s feelings during treatment? I want to challenge each of you to be in the moment with each patient and listen to his or her feelings, even if you have a hundred other things to do. Encourage them to discuss with their physician the benefits of alternative therapy such as Tai Chi, yoga, massage therapy and even water exercise as a way to cope with the stress of cancer. Don’t be afraid to recommend classes like Tai Chi to patients that could benefit from the experience and maybe go the extra step in finding local programs to suggest. It is how we embrace the uncertainty in our lives that leads to great changes.

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