According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Half of all men and one-third of all women in the U.S. will develop cancer during their lifetimes. Today, millions of people are living with cancer or have had cancer. The numbers are dismal; according to most statistical data American's possess almost a fifty percent chance of developing cancer. With these alarming statistics it is unfortunate and inevitable that almost everyone will have to in some way or another learn how face and cope with the depressing hardships and obstacles of cancer. Whether an individual is diagnosed personally with cancer or a friend or family member is, it seems as though all of us at some point in time may have to learn coping mechanisms for this illness.
This paper addresses the various coping techniques that individuals can employ when dealing with cancer themselves or dealing with a loved one who has the disease. Moreover, this paper will also address how a diagnosis of cancer can dramatically change not only the life of the person with cancer but the lives of those who love and care about him or her as well.
Coping has been defined as the use of all cognitive and behavioral activities used by patients to reduce stress and to bring about adaptation" (Krause. 1993). Coping strategies and other related mechanisms can range drastically depending on each individual situation. Many factors may contribute to different coping methods. Coping may not only be exclusively for the patient but could help friends and family as well. Emotional coping is not needed alone. People may have to cope other ways such as physically, financially and by gathering information about the illness.
When a person is diagnosed with cancer, they will find themselves dealing with many emotions. They are not alone, as family members, friends and others who will be affected will also experience feelings that will alter their lives forever. Krouse and Krouse cited in their research that "the diagnosis of cancer is often associated with increased distress for the patient, manifested by feelings of anxiety, fear, angry, depression and helplessness." Studies by Lambert & Lambert suggest "the patient with cancer might be required to deal with symptoms, manage health care regimens, adjust to alterations in body image, handle the uncertainty of the progression of the disease, and revise personal, social and occupational goals." Frequent doctor visits and other medical care such as chemotherapy and radiation can be painful and physically draining. A cancer diagnosis shifts the reality of those affected, what may have been feasible prior to the illness may no longer be possible. Such a dramatic change can lead to frustration not only because many things are occurring at a rapid pace but also because lack of financial, emotional and informational support hinders the ability of those affected to effectively cope with the disease.
According to a study conducted by professors at the University of Notre Dame in 1997, self-efficacy plays an important role in dealing with cancer. Many other researchers cite that those with high-efficacy expectations for coping feel that they are able to call on reserves to meet the challenges involved in coping with stressors such as cancer. Those low in efficacy may feel overwhelmed by the demands of their situation (Bandura 1991). High self-efficacy can be achieved thru a variety of means such as exercise, goal setting, emotional support and coping skills groups. In a study by Telch and Telch completed in 1986, those who participated in coping-skills group possessed higher self-efficacy than those who participated in a support group and those who received no treatment. In essence, by seeking help and realizing that the diagnosis of cancer is by no means a death sentence one has a greater chance of achieving high self-efficacy. Those who shut themselves off from others, give up and other pessimistic attitudes usually do not achieve very high degrees of self-efficacy as the research suggests. The degree of self-efficacy is a combination of a variety of copy techniques and depending on how effectively these techniques are employed will determine the degree of self-efficacy achieved.
Coping strategies have been classified into three groups:
An emotion-focused strategy implies that people try to process their emotions by acting and thinking. When the person uses the problem-focused strategy, they believe that they can affect the situation, which has caused the disease or their resources to manage the situation. An appraisal-focused process focuses on the cognitive process of situational appraisal and making a choice of coping strategies. All these strategies are required for effective coping. During the coping process, continuous appraisal is needed. One has to find new solutions leading to acceptance of the situation, which also assumes working on the emotional level. Simply stated, successful coping strategies will center around three main aspects: financial support, emotional support and informational support.
Financial matters are very important to cancer patients. Cancer is both physically and emotionally draining as cancer treatments, surgeries and the frequent visit to doctors, routine exams and other procedures can also drain the wallet. In the study conducted by researchers at the University of Notre Dame, half of the participant's annual salary was less than $25,000. Additionally, many medical insurance plans and disability insurance plans have a lifetime limit for claims, which a cancer patient may exhaust in a short time framing leaving them without financial support. Additionally, some procedures are not fully covered or not covered at all, leaving the patient to pick up the tab. To add insult to injury, many cancer patients are unable to work, and loose income that is needed to run their household. The impact is greater for women and minorities who feel a greater financial burden when facing a disease such as cancer. There are many programs such as Encoreplus, Corporate Angel Network and the National Cancer Institute that exist to help those in financial need. By achieving some sort of financial stability cancer patients and their family can focus their energy on what is really important, conquering the disease.
Being mentally sound oftentimes helps increase physical strength. One of the keys to achieving self-efficacy is thru emotional support; the best way to begin the process is by opening up the lines of communication between all those who are affected by the illness. Patients, their family and friends must first acknowledge that the illness is present and accept that it will impact their lives in more ways than one. All those involved must learn as much as they can about cancer and about the specific illness that the patient is afflicted. With this knowledge and based on the feelings of the patient, the patient and loved ones can begin utilizing techniques that will help all involved emotionally cope with the disease.
Cancer patients, their friends and family must use all resources at their disposal to help cope with the disease. Research shows that informational support along with emotional support was the most frequently used coping strategy. According to a study convened by the European Journal of Cancer Care, one subject commented on the alienation he felt when he received the news he had cancer:
Somebody called me [to say] that you have cancer and you have to come to the hospital next Friday for more examinations and that you will be admitted into the cancer ward next Monday. But they did not say anything else, they did not ask how I felt, about my reactions, nothing...They did not offer any kind of support or even say that I could go to the Outpatient Department to discuss with somebody-no, no, they did not...I felt I needed to discuss with…