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Section 1
Coping with Cancer

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In this section, we will discuss influences or factors that affect how well clients cope.  I have found four factors play into how my client may cope with cancer.  The four types of influences are the disease itself, stage of life, resources, values, and emotional patterns of the client, and social support. 

As you listen to this section, consider your client.  How long has he or she been living with the diagnosis of cancer?  What information might you try to obtain from your client in order to define the influences in his or her life which may influence how the client might cope with cancer?

4 Factors for Coping with Cancer

♦ Factor # 1.  The Disease Itself
First, let’s discuss the disease itself as an influence that affects how well clients cope with cancer.  I find that where the cancer is located, what stage it is in, and which treatment therapies have been proposed or are being implemented affect the magnitude of the stressor that cancer represents.  Would you agree? 

Clearly, a woman who has been recently diagnosed with localized cancer of the cervix medically would appear to have much less serious disease and, therefore, by some standards less of a stressor to cope with than a woman who finds that her cancer has spread to distant organs.  However stress is clearly based upon perception.

♦ Factor # 2. Stage of Life
Next, let’s discuss stage of life.  How might your client’s stage of life influence his or her ability to cope?  Might cancer be more devastating to a younger person?  Perhaps the localized cervical cancer of the woman from the previous example might find her diagnosis to be life shattering if she has not yet had children.

♦ Factor # 3. Social Support
In addition to the disease itself and stage of life, third let’s discuss social support.  Research indicates that the more connected people are to family, faith communities, friends, and other groups, the better able they are to meet the challenge of serious disease. 

For example, Nancy, age 41, was a breast cancer patient.  Nancy stated, "I primarily get support from my husband and my two kids.  They never waver in their concern and care for me.  Also, I work with a couple nurses who call or stop by pretty regularly.  We gossip a lot about people at work, but in fact, they help keep me connected." 

Forms of Social Support
The forms of social support clients seek out may vary.  In my experience, I find that men tend to seek out solitary avenues of support while woman tend toward formal or informal support groups.  Think of your client.  If he or she is already engaged in one type of support, could it be helpful to encourage other types of support?

Let’s look at the other side of the connection between social support and coping with cancer.  Would you agree that Branden suffered from additional distress?  Branden, age 28, stated, "Here I am undergoing the removal of some weird cancerous mass and my fiancé, the woman I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with, leaves me!"  Perhaps Branden’s perceived abandonment was more devastating to him than the disease itself.

I find that support, however, is by no means limited to the emotional variety.  A parent with cancer can benefit simply from a neighbor’s offer to babysit a couple of afternoons a week, allowing the parent time alone.  Healthcare professionals can provide informational support when they tell cancer patients what to expect and help them gain insight into the predictable course of their disease.  Clients often report that just knowing that a particular physical or emotional reaction to a type of surgery is normal can help resolve emotional distress and enhance the client’s ability to cope with the cancer treatment. 

♦ Factor # 4. Resources, Values, and Emotional Patterns
Finally, let’s discuss resources, values, and emotional patterns of the client.  Some of these factors are obvious.  Personal and cognitive skills play a role.  I have found a client’s previous personal experience with cancer can also affect coping.  A client who has watched a parent or sibling suffer from a lengthy illness is more likely to adopt an attitude of hopelessness than is someone with a similar cancer who has seen a family member go into remission and live well for years. 

Have your found like I that religion, spirituality, and the belief in an afterlife may also affect the way clients cope with cancer?  Some clients may feel that cancer is a punishment for sin, or a path to a higher plane of existence.  Or perhaps a client’s religious beliefs emphasize selflessness and the stoic acceptance of suffering, resulting in difficulty for the client to complain appropriately and get the necessary care.  Think of your client.  How might his or her resources, values, and emotional patterns affect how he or she copes with cancer?

In this section, we have discussed influences or factors that affect how well clients cope with cancer.  Four influences can be the disease itself, stage of life, resources, values, and emotional patterns of the client, and social support. 

In the next section, we will discuss dealing with discovery.  Let’s examine three issues surrounding dealing with discovery.  They are denial, anger, and sense of loss.  We’ll also discuss techniques for minimizing the sense of loss.

Coping with Advanced Cancer

- National Cancer Institute. (2014). Coping with Advanced Cancer. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Applebaum, A. J., Marziliano, A., Schofield, E., Breitbart, W., & Rosenfeld, B. (2021). Measuring positive psychosocial sequelae in patients with advanced cancer. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 13(6), 703–712.

Merluzzi, T. V., Philip, E. J., Heitzmann Ruhf, C. A., Liu, H., Yang, M., & Conley, C. C. (2018). Self-efficacy for coping with cancer: Revision of the Cancer Behavior Inventory (Version 3.0). Psychological Assessment, 30(4), 486–499. 

Rottmann, N., Hansen, D. G., Larsen, P. V., Nicolaisen, A., Flyger, H., Johansen, C., & Hagedoorn, M. (2015). Dyadic coping within couples dealing with breast cancer: A longitudinal, population-based study. Health Psychology, 34(5), 486–495.

Stanton, A. L., Wiley, J. F., Krull, J. L., Crespi, C. M., & Weihs, K. L. (2018). Cancer-related coping processes as predictors of depressive symptoms, trajectories, and episodes. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 86(10), 820–830.

What are four factors that affect how a client copes with cancer? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 2
Table of Contents