Coping with a Gynaecological Cancer Diagnosis

A gynaecological cancer diagnosis is difficult for most people and can have a substantial impact on your mental health and wellbeing. Talking openly about cancer is very helpful.

Cancer can bring out a range of feelings including shock, stress, fear, sadness, depression, anxiety, anger or loss of control among many others. Everyone is different. You may feel one of these feelings, or many of these—others may not experience any of these feelings.

There is support available to help you cope when you are first diagnosed, as well as during and after treatment. Treatment for gynaecological cancer can result in physical changes to your body and side effects which can affect how you feel. Many cancer patients experience depression or anxiety and studies have found that this is more common than among people without cancer.

Woman in a yoga poseHere I discuss some support structures that may be of benefit to you.  I encourage you to consider any that may help you cope better with your gynaecological cancer diagnosis:

Consider learning some relaxation methods

Breathing, mindfulness, or yoga are good examples.

Try deep breathing and relaxation exercises several times a day. Cancer Council NSW reports that cancer patients who practice relaxation and meditation have lower levels of anxiety and stress.

A balanced and nutritious diet

Maintaining a healthy, nutritious and healthy diet will help you to keep as well as possible.

Consider reading

Whether it’s a motivational book, or fiction, reading is a great relaxation method.

Regular exercise

A regular exercise routine can be a healthy distraction for many patients, and is highly valuable for your recovery.

Exercise produces endorphins (chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers) and also improves the ability to sleep, which reduces stress. Physical exercise has attracted increased interest in rehabilitation of cancer patients.

In the case of patients undergoing chemotherapy, exercise can reduce the number and severity of physical and psychosocial treatment-related side effects and improve patients’ quality of life. I am currently involved in the ECHO trials. The ECHO trials evaluate the effects of an individualised physical exercise intervention during chemotherapy for primary or relapsed ovarian cancer. For those who may be interested in participating in the trial please mention this to me at your next consultation.   

Cancer physical rehabilitation

This is an undervalued service option that is not used often enough.

After discharge from hospital, professionally trained cancer rehab physiotherapists and exercise physiologists provide evidence-based cancer recovery programs which may combine many of the above methods into an individualised program. An outstanding service is the CHOICES program located in Brisbane.

Additionally, the PINC Cancer Rehabilitation program in Brisbane or the McKenzie Clinic at the Sunshine Coast are services that I've worked with that may particularly help those who feel very overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.

Find other patients to talk to who are going through the same journey

The Cancer Council Queensland offers peer coaching, where experienced people listen and support newly diagnosed patients.

In my office, we can arrange contact between patients with their permission, and we can also do this for patients who require certain operations that don’t involve cancer. It can greatly help someone when you can share your experiences and ways of coping with someone in a similar situation as you. 

See a GP or a psychologist with a special interest in depression or anxiety

I do not prescribe medication for depression or anxiety because it is outside the spectrum of my qualifications, however I've witnessed that for some patients medication has worked wonders.

They are so more relaxed and are able to tolerate treatment a lot better and enjoy life again. Think about also asking your GP to refer you to a psychologist who can work with you and your family for ongoing help. I can also refer you to a psychologist.

Sometimes cancer patients feel pressured that they need to think positively all the time and fight the cancer with positive thoughts. It’s important to note that negative thoughts are normal and not related to poor prognosis. There is no evidence to believe that emotions can cause cancer or help it grow. Evidence suggests that cancer patients who are upbeat and positive and those who struggle sometimes with negative thoughts do equally well, but of course negative thoughts can be burdensome and weigh you down, so it is recommended that you talk to someone about having such thoughts, especially if they bother you.

I recently read 'The Happiness Trap' by Russ Harris, a book about dealing with painful feelings more effectively. A great quote from the book: “I don’t care how many positive thoughts you conjure, what kind of therapies you do, or what kind of ​New Agey spiritual crap​ you come up with – negative thoughts and emotions are natural processes of the human brain. You can’t get away from them. None of us can. What you CAN do is accept them. Defuse from them. And then act despite them. When people come to me ask how to “Stop feeling angry,” or “Stop getting nervous,” this is their problem. ​As soon as you try to eliminate a thought or emotion, you make it stronger”.

Useful resources for coping with a gynaecological cancer diagnosis

If you’re not sure where to start, the Cancer Council (13 11 20) is a free, confidential telephone information and support service run by Cancer Councils in each state and territory. Anyone can call: cancer patients, people living with cancer, their families, carers and friends, teachers, students and healthcare professionals.

If you wish to receive regular information, resources, reassurance and inspiration for up-to-date care that is safe and sound and in line with the latest research, please subscribe to my blog via the form above, or like Dr Andreas Obermair on Facebook.

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