10 tips for coping with a cancer relapse
After facing cancer relapse, Kathryn, 22 and from Gwernaffield near Mold in North Wales, gives us her tips as she goes through treatment for a recurrence of Hodgkin Lymphoma.
- Cancer relapse or recurrence is when it comes back
- There are things you can do that might help you face a cancer relapse
- That can include trying new hobbies, talking, noticing your emotions and reaching out to your Teenage Cancer Trust nurse or youth support coordinator
1 Find a new hobby
A big part of a cancer diagnosis is waiting around for treatment and waiting for results. Relapse is more of that waiting.
The treatment I’m currently on is every three weeks and so to help pass the time, I’ve started learning how to play the saxophone.
Doing this has really helped to distract me from treatment and make things move faster.
There is no harm in trying something new. Who knows? You may really enjoy it.
2 Talk to others who have been through cancer relapse
When I first started going through treatment, I knew a lot of other young people who had the same cancer as me. This really helped my mental health as I could talk to others who knew exactly what I was going through.
But when I relapsed, I felt alone. So I decided to join some online cancer support groups and spoke to others that had been through/were going through the same thing I was.
Being able to talk about treatments and side effects with other cancer patients has been extremely beneficial, especially since everyone I’ve spoken to is so friendly.
3 Treat yourself
I probably do this a little too much. This journey is really difficult, which means that you should definitely reward yourself for getting through it.
Before the pandemic I would do this by having a meal out with my friends or popping down to the shops and browsing through clothes and furniture.
But now I tend to order myself something online. It’s a way of telling myself ‘Well done for getting through that cycle!’ Keep reminding yourself that you’re doing an amazing job!
4 Focus on the now
When I was told that I had relapsed, there were so many thoughts running through my head.
Although having goals in mind are important, I found that focusing on what was happening in the present really helped to ground me and ignore the thoughts of the ’What ifs?’
Try not to worry about what could happen. Take care of yourself now, let future you deal with everything else.
5 Don't ignore your emotions - reach out
No matter what treatment you’re on, cancer treatment is both physically and emotionally draining. When I relapsed, I struggled a lot with my mental health.
My Teenage Cancer Trust nurse Charlene got me in touch with people who could help.
They told me that my feelings were valid and not something to be ashamed of. Taking that step and reaching out can be difficult, but is definitely the best decision I made.
6 Spend time with family and friends
It took me some time to tell my friends that I had relapsed as I was trying to get my head around it myself. However the support I received afterwards was amazing.
I’m also extremely close with my family who took me on walks around our local countryside where I found the sound of nature to be very calming and relaxing, taking my mind off everything that was happening.
Surround yourself with the people you love and care about as it really helps bring back some normality.
8 Your Teenage Cancer Trust nurse is there to help
Before I relapsed, I was used to dealing and speaking to only one hospital team. But after I relapsed there were so many new people I had to have meetings with and I felt really out of my depth.
So I made sure that my Teenage Cancer Trust nurse Charlene attended every meeting. I felt like I had this new comfort blanket that was there to stop me from getting overwhelmed with new information.
When I did get overwhelmed however, she was able to put me in touch with psychologists and get me the help I needed.
Definitely take full advantage of your Teenage Cancer Trust nurse as they are there to help in many different situations.
9 Get involved in activities that are available
When I relapsed, I really didn’t want to go out and see people. I tried to hide away.
But I forced myself to get involved in activities run by Teenage Cancer Trust which really helped take my mind off things.
During lockdown our Teenage Cancer Trust youth support coordinators arranged Zoom calls with different activities ranging from bingo and games nights to evenings with celebrities such as musicians, footballers, comedians, and my favourite, the Drag Race UK runner up Divina De Campo.
I definitely suggest getting involved in activities like these as they give you something to do on a weekly basis.
10 It’s ok to find things funny
I think this one is the most important. I know how hard it is to find yourself in a dark place.
But finding humour in my situation, whether that be in memes or throwing banter back and forth with my brother really helped to feel like me again.
I even shaved my head in humorous ways such as shaving in funny shapes or giving myself a mohawk, eventually leaving a tuft at the front that never actually fell out.
Everyone’s different, but for me, making light of my situation and having a laugh really helped to make it not so scary.