10 ways to cope with cancer waiting periods

One of the challenges of a cancer diagnosis is waiting – waiting in doctors’ offices or hospitals, waiting to start or complete treatment, waiting for results that could confirm a diagnosis or waiting for news that treatment worked.

If you are not living with cancer, you may be a caregiver, family member or friend of someone who is. While everyone experiences waiting periods differently, you are not alone in the stress or anxiety you may feel.

We asked our CancerConnection online community how they cope with waiting periods and they shared ways that they care for themselves and their loved ones during these stressful times.

1) Get informed

Use waiting periods to prepare yourself and learn more about your care. It can help you organize your thoughts. The amount of information that comes with a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, especially if you have been newly diagnosed and are unsure where to start. You may choose to seek information about your cancer type, what to expect from treatment or which questions to ask.

If you are a caregiver, family member or friend of someone who has been diagnosed, getting informed can help you understand how to best offer support.

Call our Cancer Information Helpline to talk to an information specialist about your questions and concerns.

2) Seek support from family, friends and community groups

Whether you have been diagnosed with cancer or are caring for someone who has, it’s important to seek support in times of uncertainty. It can be difficult to ask for help. You may feel like your loved ones won’t understand your experience.

To connect with others who understand what you’re going through, join CancerConnection, our online community of people living with cancer, caregivers and survivors. 

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3) Become familiar with unfamiliar places

You may spend waiting periods in unfamiliar places like hospitals. Whether a hospital stay is short or long, it can be difficult for all members of the family. Becoming familiar with these new surroundings can help you and your loved ones get more comfortable while you wait. For guardians caring for children with cancer, see our resource on coping with hospital stays.

4) Plan ahead for appointments

Preparing for things like upcoming appointments can help you feel better while you wait. If you have cancer, you might choose to prepare a list of questions or ask someone to come with you to your appointment.

If you are a caregiver, you could plan to record the information you learn at the visit or prepare to be your loved one’s voice if they feel overwhelmed. To learn more, see our resource on preparing for appointments

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5) Consult a mental health professional

Whether you are living with a diagnosis or supporting someone who is, it’s important to care for your mental health. Mental health professionals like counsellors, therapists or social workers can help you process the emotions that come with cancer experiences. Watch our video on how social workers can help you and your family cope with a cancer diagnosis.

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6) Relax with mind-body practices

Mind-body practices such as mindfulness and meditation can help you reduce stress, anxiety and fatigue you may be feeling during these times of uncertainty.

For more information on mind-body practices you can try, see our resource on coping with anxiety and stress. For an audio resource, you can listen to our relaxation recordings.

7) Journaling

The anticipation of waiting periods during cancer leaves many people exhausted, anxious and emotionally drained. By keeping a journal, you can write down your frustrations and get perspective on what is happening in your life. Writing your thoughts down can be a great way to bring clarity to overwhelming feelings or uncertainties.

Close up of a person’s hand writing in a notebook

8) Keep your body moving

If you can, doing physical activity like going for walks, doing stretches. Before starting, check in with your healthcare team to know what activity is safe for you.

9) Find temporary distractions

It’s important to seek out moments of normalcy while you cope with uncertainty. Temporary distractions can be a great way to put your mind somewhere else. You may choose to do this by reading, playing games, or doing creative activities like art or writing.

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10) Take care of yourself

The stress of waiting periods can take a toll on your physical and mental health, no matter how cancer impacts you. Whether you are a caregiver or living with a diagnosis, it’s important to look after yourself. This can mean resting, sharing your feelings with your loved ones and accepting help when you need it.

To learn more, read our resource on taking care of yourself.

While everyone experiences waiting periods differently, you are not alone. Join our online community on CancerConnection to connect with others for support.