Ovarian Cancer

Coping strategies

There isn't one right way to deal with ovarian cancer. Each person tries to find what is best for her. Some women we spoke to tried to go on living as near normally as possible. They wanted to continue working, not to be treated as an invalid, they didn't want the illness to make big changes in their lives, they didn't want to talk about it all the time or sit around feeling sorry for themselves. Some said that doing normal everyday things helped them to feel less ill. A woman who kept her illness a secret at work and behaved as if nothing was wrong, said that she managed to hoodwink others, and herself to some extent. 

Some women who were in remission felt that they had had cancer but no longer had it; they wanted to put the experience behind them and return to normal life. But that wasn't always easy. 

Many talked about having a fighting spirit or being positive. Positive thinking means different things to different people, but generally it is about facing the cancer, confronting it, dealing with it and having hope. Some people feel that adopting a positive attitude, rather than feeling sad or having negative thoughts, can help recovery or even prevent the cancer from coming back, and some had used positive thinking alongside relaxation or visualisation techniques (see 'Complementary approaches'). 

Many factors influence the development of cancer and there is so far no evidence that positive thinking can alter its course, although research continues. However, some women believed that a determination to fight their cancer had helped them recover. Others had read that positive thinking would not cure their cancer but they believed it could help them to cope with it and to feel better.

For some women 'being positive' meant assuming that they would get better, or remaining cheerful and not complaining about their illness. For others it meant not dwelling on the possibility that they might die from the cancer but getting on with living their remaining life to the full. Several women stressed that they were not being unrealistic or denying that their illness was serious.

Some remained upbeat for the sake of family and friends. Women sometimes tried to think about positive aspects of their situation or compared themselves to others worse off than themselves.

Some acknowledged it was hard to remain positive, particularly if the cancer came back. No-one can be positive all the time, and most people living with cancer will have times when they feel tired, anxious, depressed or angry. Some said that other people sometimes made them feel guilty about having negative thoughts. If people think that 'fighting' the cancer is important it can be additionally hard on them if their fight does not work. Several women pointed out that no-one should be made to feel guilty or responsible for having their illness.

One said she adopted a realistic coping style so that she would be prepared if her cancer returned. Another said she approached her illness in a business-like way. Some said they tried to live their lives one day or one week at a time.

Women sometimes found that talking with others about their illness helped them to cope with it, although others preferred to be more private (see 'Support'). Some mentioned finding out about ovarian cancer and other people's experiences as a coping strategy, particularly when newly diagnosed, although some also wanted to avoid any depressing information or stories. One had initially wanted to find as much information as possible but later learned to rely upon her own spiritual resources to live with her illness. Keeping their minds occupied distracted some women from their illness.

Some women found it helpful to keep records or diaries of the illness, its treatment and their feelings at different times. Others felt it helped them to take control by making treatment decisions where possible or by seeking out information. One woman said that allowing herself treats helped her morale during treatment; another, who had always enjoyed exercise, found that walking in the sea air helped her greatly.

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Last reviewed June 2016.

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