‘The emotional recovery was less straightforward and for the first year I just lived from check up to check up fearing it would/had come back. I was scared of every tiny symptom or health issue. My way of coping was to start to plan trips, visits, holidays – things to focus on and look forward to. For a while I didn’t dare to think I had a future, but planning things made me feel like I did. Planning things distracted me and that in itself was helpful’ – Online Forum Member, June 2015
For all of us, accepting that we cannot control every aspect of our lives can be really difficult. After cancer, feelings of anxiety and fear can escalate. The worries we used to hold at bay grow louder and can threaten to dominate our existence. To keep the worry in its place you have to get to know it better. When do you worry most? What sets off those little voices? Is it a particular type of conversation? Is it surfing the net for information on “cervical cancer”? Is it just before a check-up or a routine visit to the GP?
Get to know when worry preys on your mind and create strategies to contain it. This section lists some ideas on how to help with this, including:
You might not have had a go at any of these practices before, but it is worth considering them as they can help you to relax both your mind and body.
Relaxation or meditation encourages your mind and body to enter into a state of calm or rest. This can give you a sense of relief from stress and can help you to feel more able to take on life's challenges. Getting into a daily routine with this may help train you to focus on your breathing and give your overactive mind a rest.
Yoga or pilates will help to strengthen your body as well as focussing your mind on your breathing rather than your worries. Yoga is an ancient practice going back thousands of years and is believed by its practitioners to unite mind, body and spirit.
Both yoga and pilates help to build 'core stability'. Core stability refers to the muscles around your pelvis (including your pelvic floor muscles), back and abdomen. Having strong muscles in these areas helps to stabilise the body during movement and because your pelvic floor muscles help with urinary continence having a strong pelvic floor can help with some bladder problems.
Your local cancer support centre might have exercise and relaxation classes. The teachers at these centres will be sensitive to your needs if you are recently recovering from treatment. If you decide to go to classes at a yoga centre or leisure club, you could have a quiet word with the teacher and let them know if you are still recovering from the effects of surgery or treatment.
Most cancer centres will have information and/or a support area for patients so you can find out what is available locally. See our links page for more information on national organisations offering services like this.
‘I no longer spend time allowing myself to get depressed doing meaningless things. I try to be creative and to put some love into the world. I try to make smiles’ – Online Forum Member, July 2015
An engaged mind is less likely to wander off into fears and ‘what ifs’. So find things to do that you can concentrate on. For some women, going back to work fulfils this purpose.
Alternatively, supporting others with cancer has been shown by research to have a positive impact . It raises self-esteem and can give you a sense of meaning, when life might otherwise seem quite random.
It may take a while for you to be ready to support others, but you could help us raise awareness about cervical cancer and the support services that Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust offers. Read about the different ways you can get involved.
There is nothing like talking to another woman who has a shared experience and has found her way of coping with life after cervical cancer. You can meet other women through our Let's Meet days or through our network of local support groups. You may also want to visit our online Forum. Our Forum provides a safe space to connect with other women who understand what you’re going through.
'In the beginning the forum and especially the support I received was my lifeline, I honestly think I would have buckled without the support I got from here’ – Online Forum Member, February 2015
Cancer can have a huge impact on emotional wellbeing and it is important to acknowledge this . A fear of your cancer coming back can be consuming and it can leave you feeling scared and overly focussed on your health, on every ache and pain.
‘For me, the emotional recovery was much harder than the physical’– Online Forum Member, January 2016
For some women going to a counsellor or psychologist to talk through what they are feeling can be helpful to adjust to everyday life again. Whether it’s a space to speak about your fears of recurrence or coming to terms with the changes cervical cancer has brought to your life, seeing a professional who specialises in supporting people through cancer can help.
Ask your clinical nurse specialist (CNS) if it is possible to be referred to a Psycho-Oncology team (not all hospitals have these). You may be offered cognitive behavioural therapy, which will help you manage difficult thoughts and feelings, or mindfulness based cognitive therapy, which will again help you manage your anxieties. Both techniques can support you emotionally and mentally.
You might also find that focussing on other areas of your life, such as hobbies and pastimes, or making time to do things that you feel nourish and support you, can really help you to work towards finding a 'new normal'. Give yourself time to adjust to life and make sure you get the support you need. Find out about the different support services that Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust offers.
- Pistrang N et al, 2012. Telephone peer support for women with gynaecological cancer: benefits and challenges for supporters. Psycho-Oncology 22(4), 886–894.
- Johnson RL et al, 2010. Distress in women with gynecologic cancer. Psycho-Oncology 19 (6), 665–668.
- Macmillan Cancer Support, 2014. Your emotions. www.macmillan.org.uk/Cancerinformation/Livingwithandaftercancer/Emotionaleffects/Emotionaleffects.aspx. Accessed: 22.07.2016