Managing the anxiety of cancer

Engaging in group art classes may help alleviate the anxiety and stress experienced with a cancer diagnosis.

Guided relaxation and meditation can help manage stress.

Gilda's Club offers educational workshops and materials; healthy lifestyle classes such as nutrition, exercise, and arts; support groups and short-term individualized counseling; and resource and referral programs.

There’s no getting around it: cancer touches everyone. The American Cancer Society® reports that, today, 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will receive a cancer diagnosis in his or her lifetime.  

Hearing those three scary words, “You have cancer,” certainly increases stress and creates anxiety. Research has shown, though, that reducing anxiety for a cancer patient and their caregiver improves health outcomes. Consider the following six strategies to manage the stress you, a friend, or a loved one might be feeling.  

Give yourself permission to experience your emotions
If you’re surprised by your emotional responses, try to remember that you’re human. It is totally normal to have these reactions at such a stressful time. It’s also important to share how you are feeling with friends and loved ones so you don’t have to carry your emotions alone. However, if you feel anxious most or all of the time, you may need extra help. Be sure to tell your oncology team, primary care doctor, or social worker. They may suggest additional options to manage your anxiety.

Know when to ask for help
For most of us, it’s not easy to ask for help. However, most people in your life truly want to help and simply don’t know specifically what to do. Most will say, “Let me know what I can do.” So, do it! By making specific requests like, “Can you drive me to and from an appointment,” or “I would love a light dinner brought to the house one day next week,” or “Could you walk my dog on Tuesday,” you actually give your friends and family members the gift of generosity. 

Get information
No doubt, you were sent home from your medical appointment with lots of literature to sift through. Getting information about your cancer type, treatment options, and possible side effects can not only help with decisions you may face but will also give you a feeling of control. Some of us like to gather information in a lecture format, so consider checking out the educational class offerings at Gilda’s Club Kansas City or your health system. If you want to educate yourself online, stick to reputable sources and remember that each person’s cancer is different; the experiences of others — and even statistics — can only tell you so much.

Join a support group
Talking about your situation, and hearing that others are experiencing and feeling the same, can go a long way. Support Groups can help you feel less isolated and improve quality of life. Professionally facilitated groups are available through Gilda’s Club Kansas City. Some cancer centers in the greater Kansas City area offer support groups for their patients, as well.  Online support is another option if there’s nothing close to home.

Even gentle exercise like walking or yoga produces endorphins, which can help you sleep better and reduce stress. The best way to stay active is to find the type of exercise you enjoy instead of trying to force yourself into something you don’t. This could be walking outside, going to the gym with a friend, or trying an exercise class.

Guided relaxation and meditation
Creating self calm through guided relaxation or meditation can help manage stress and side effects for people with cancer and their loved ones. If you’re new to the practice of guided relaxation or meditation, try a class first. Guided relaxation and meditation have become so popular that there are dozens of apps for your mobile device that can teach you how to incorporate helpful techniques into your daily routine.

About Gilda’s Club Kansas City
Gilda’s Club Kansas City is the only program solely focused on meeting the psychosocial care needs of people impacted by cancer. Their program includes educational workshops and materials; healthy lifestyle classes such as nutrition, exercise, and arts; support groups and short-term individualized counseling; and resource and referral programs including Open to Options ® (treatment decision model) and CancerSupportSource ® (distress screening tool). Two things make the programs unique: each is facilitated by a licensed mental health professional; and, they are offered free of charge. Learn more at

Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006