How To Improve Your Mental Health When Living With Cancer

25 Jun 2021

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis can be tough, especially in the first few weeks following the diagnosis. Many patients experience feelings of shock anxiety, depression, anger, and may even feel isolated. In fact, research by the Cancer Council Victoria shows that 40% of patients living with cancer experience significant mental health issues.

The following article has been medically reviewed by Dr Felicia Roncolato.

Dr Felicia Roncolato is a medical oncology staff specialist with appointments at Campbelltown hospital (South West Local Health District) and Prince of Wales Private Hospital. Her clinical interests are genitourinary (prostate, bladder, kidney, testis), gynaecological and breast cancer.

If you have been diagnosed with gynaecological cancer and feel your mental health has been severely impacted, seeking help and taking steps to adapt to the stress can help make a positive difference.

Here are a few ways to help manage your mental wellbeing when living with gynaecological cancer.


Healthy eating for patients with cancer

While undergoing cancer treatment, your appetite may be significantly affected due to stress, or treatment induced nausea or appetite loss. However, it is important  to make sure you are eating enough food, and the right kinds of foods. Mental and physical well-being are closely related and while there’s no food that can solve severe mental health issues, eating a range of wholesome and nutritious foods can help improve your mood and boost your energy levels.

Unhealthy diets that are high in junk food and low in nutrients can cause changes in brain structure, chronic inflammation and poor gut health – all of which have been linked to mood regulation. It is recommended that cancer patients maintain a diet that consists of healthy foods including plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and sources of omega-3 fatty acids (fish or vegetarian alternatives). Consult your doctor or treatment team including a dietician for further advice on maintaining and planning a nutritious diet during treatment.


Relaxation and meditation for cancer patients

Some studies have shown that relaxation and meditation can help lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression in patients with cancer. There are several different types of relaxation and meditation techniques you can incorporate into your daily routine including guided meditations focused on imagery and visualisation.

By playing serene music and visualising pleasant environments, you may find yourself feeling more relaxed and positive about your diagnosis and treatment plan. Some hospitals and even some community centres offer relaxation and meditation groups. Speak to your doctor to find out what options are available for you to explore.


Enjoyable physical activities

While exercise may feel like the last thing you want to do right now, exercise can have many benefits for cancer patients including reduced fatigue and improved moods. Joining exercise groups or sport teams can also help combat feelings of isolation. Exercise can take on many forms and range from walking to strenuous, high impact exercise. Read more about the benefits of exercise for patients with cancer here and make sure you consult your doctor before engaging in any physical activity. 


Seeking support from other people and resources

Research shows that support from family, friends, healthcare professionals, and cancer support groups can help patients with cancer adjust to life with their diagnosis. While some people may feel uncomfortable talking about their feelings, putting off communicating can make it harder in the long run.

If you’re finding it particularly hard to start conversations with your friends and family, nurses, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors can be great listeners and can even help you become more comfortable with expressing your feelings.

Visit the Cancer Australia website for more information about managing emotional changes after diagnosis. If you are struggling to manage your mental wellbeing, please seek professional advice from your treatment team, or from a licensed mental health service provider.

ANZGOG’s quality of life studies

Funds raised through WomenCan go towards funding ANZGOG’s gynaecological cancer clinical research trials, including trials that aim to improve the mental well-being of gynaecological cancer patients and survivors. One such trial is the MOST (OPAL) study which addresses whether lifestyle choices during or after cancer treatment impact quality of life including rates of depression, anxiety, insomnia and fatigue.