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Colon Cancer Special Report

Surviving the Emotional Aftershock of Colorectal Cancer

Cancer changes everything. At first, the focus is on the physical disease and the many decisions around treatment. In that harried time, the psychological and emotional effects of having colon or rectal cancer may not even be on the agenda. In this Special Report, Johns Hopkins reviews professional resources to help you cope emotionally with colorectal cancer.

Cancer is a "mental" as well as a physical illness, says Eden Stotsky, a rectal cancer survivor and Education Program Coordinator at the Johns Hopkins Colon Cancer Center. Some emotional fallout is to be expected and is normal, says Stotsky. It's important not to ignore or brush aside these feelings and to know that resources are available to help you and your family.

When reeling from a life blow such as cancer, professional support can be invaluable. Family and friends may offer emotional support, but they may be emotionally overwhelmed, too. In addition, you may discover that you are not able to be completely honest with loved ones about how you feel or you may worry that you will upset them if you express your true feelings. That's why a professional counselor or therapist is often better suited than family or friends to help you sort through the emotions and issues associated with colorectal cancer survivorship.

Professional counseling. Many types of mental health professionals offer one-on-one or family counseling. Keep in mind that not every counselor has experience working with cancer survivors. Your doctor or treatment center may be able to recommend a mental health professional with the appropriate experience. These services are usually covered by insurance.

Support groups. As with professional counseling, a support group can be a valuable tool for survivors and their families. Spending time with others who are going through the same process can be nurturing and empowering. You also may get ideas for coping from other group members or guest speakers.

Support groups come in many forms. Some are very organized, with a class-like agenda and sessions that meet for a set number of times, and they do not allow drop-ins; while others have a less formal structure. Some support groups are limited to people with a specific kind or stage of cancer, while others welcome people with various types of cancer.

Check with your doctor or healthcare team about finding a support group. Also, the National Cancer Institute offers a free fact sheet, National Organizations That Offer Services to People With Cancer and Their Families, which lists many organizations that can provide information about support groups. It is available online at Click on "NCI publications," then search for the title of the fact sheet. Or you can order it from the Cancer Information Service at 800-4-CANCER (800-422-6237).

Cancer buddy. Another option is to team up with a "cancer buddy" for mutual support. This can be someone nearby that you meet with in person or someone you connect with online or by phone. At Johns Hopkins, the coordinator of the "buddy network" matches newly diagnosed patients with those who have had the same type and stage of cancer and who share similar lifestyles.

Spiritual support. If you are so inclined, you may find that religion and spiritual practices bring you solace and comfort. Studies show that such practices may ease depression, stress, and anxiety and contribute to relaxation. However, do not expect to be cured by spiritual or religious practices, and avoid anyone who says your illness is caused by your thinking or a lack of faith. True spiritual and religious groups do not offer false promises or lay blame.

Visit a cancer retreat center. Special cancer retreat centers or camps provide a nurturing environment and offer support in dealing with the emotional aspects of a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Some are for cancer patients only while others are for family and caregivers as well. The stay varies from a day or two to a week or more.

Your cancer care team can help you locate a cancer retreat center. Or you can consult Cancer Matters, an online resource that lists contact information for cancer retreat centers in selected cities. For more information, go to and click on "Resource Support," then click on "Find a City Resource Guide."

Posted in Colon Cancer on October 28, 2008


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