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Cancer and COVID-19 - looking after your mental wellbeing

Being diagnosed with cancer at any time is stressful. For those who are dealing with the diagnosis of cancer and undertaking treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic, it can feel frightening.

You are not alone. There are things that will help you get through this. And remember that Australia has one of the very best health care systems in the world. Your treatment will not be “second best”. It may be different from what you expected, but it will still be excellent.

Helpful tips

  1. It is absolutely OK to say you are scared, and probably even angry and resentful that your life has been complicated by cancer when the world feels out of control. Being able to talk about feelings helps. Choose to talk with those who will listen and acknowledge that this is tough, rather than telling you to “be positive”.
     
  2. Be selective about which information you listen to about COVID-19. Is it helpful to check the news updates 6 times a day? Maybe limit yourself to once or twice and from reliable sources only (e.g. Department of Health; Cancer Australia).
     
  3. Be proactive when you see your cancer care team. Think about your concerns before the appointment. Write them down and use the list to ensure that you discuss everything that is important to you during your appointment. There is NO dumb question. You are new to this situation. Your health care team will be able to support you best if they know what is concerning you.
     
  4. Unless you are very unwell, get out of bed and get dressed every day. Work out a routine and try to keep to this, especially around waking up and going to bed at night. Routine is comforting and can reduce the risk of becoming preoccupied with worrying thoughts.
     
  5. Think about ways to self-soothe. This could be reading, watching movies, listening to music. Maybe you could explore new ways to feel calm.There are free apps which give guidance on mindfulness whilst spending time at home.
     
  6. Keep active. Regular exercise has been shown to help reduce anxiety and help people to feel in control. Walking is great if you are in a place where you can maintain social distance. There are also various online classes for yoga and exercise routines.
     
  7. Try to maintain a healthy diet. Occasional treats are OK.
     
  8. Take control of how you share information with others. Friends and family who are concerned about you may be making frequent contact. If this is helpful – great! For some people however, this increases stress as they feel they are “going over it all the time”. If that is the case, work out a plan to send updates. Maybe let people know that you will send an email once a week, or even put things on Facebook and that they don’t need to contact you.
     
  9. Be clear in your messages to people who offer to help. This is not the time to be a hero and excessively independent. Be specific about what you need, for example picking up groceries, getting laundry done, picking up prescriptions from the pharmacy.
     
  10. GPs are still working. If you need to talk to your GP this can be by telehealth if you are concerned about going to the clinic. If you feel overwhelmed, your GP can help work out a plan for more specialised help, for example a psychologist, which can also be accessed by telehealth.

For more information