A-Z

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. 

 

When she no longer had cancer she wanted to put the experience behind her and return to normal life.

When she no longer had cancer she wanted to put the experience behind her and return to normal life.

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 58
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
But one thing that I did do while I was going through all this, I found it a great benefit of going back to work. I had a very understanding company and whilst I was going through the chemo they allowed me to go back into work on the good days and by doing that it allowed me to throw myself back into the job so that I could get back to some sort of normality. I mean some people say, oh they look at life differently in as much that they want to be with people that they love, but I'd never ever felt in my mind that things were going to be any different. I had ovarian cancer, I've had the operation, I've had the treatment and as far as I'm concerned, that is the end of it. And I've tried to get my life back into that sort of normality. And by doing that and enjoying my family it's as if nothing has really happened. I mean, the 10 months that I've had with the 2 major operations has been the most harrowing of my life and I've now tried to push that to the back of my mind.  

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.

 

Had read that positive thinking would not cure cancer but believed it helped her cope and to feel...

Had read that positive thinking would not cure cancer but believed it helped her cope and to feel...

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 59
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I've read various things about being positive, or positive thinking, and I think the latest thinking on it is that it's not supposed to be that helpful, you know, it's not, it's obviously good for you to feel positive but it's not necessarily going to change how your illness is going to affect you, you know, it's not a cure all, so. Which is quite interesting, because there have been various articles in the newspaper over the autumn and I was quite disappointed about that because I... really worked hard at... I had a healing tape, a healing meditation tape that I'd run every afternoon, when I got home, lie on the bed and listen to it. And I remember the day I read in the newspaper that positive thought wasn't necessarily going to be a cure all, that was really very disappointing.

But I think that actually that if you can sort of be as positive as possible I think that's really helpful to yourself, you know, to try and get over, and to try and feel better, you know.  

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.

 

She never doubted that she would get over the cancer.

She never doubted that she would get over the cancer.

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 58
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
But, you know, I would never give in to it, I mean I would fight it. I mean as far as I'm concerned, my attitude is you've been diagnosed, you've had the operation, you've had the treatment and you'll get over it. And that's the way I'm looking at it. I just think positive about it. I've never, ever had a negative thought in my mind about that I wouldn't get over this. I've always been a very positive person and I intend to enjoy, you know, as I say, every day as it comes.

 

Family, friends and doctors commented that she never complained about her illness.

Family, friends and doctors commented that she never complained about her illness.

Age at interview: 80
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 79
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
How did your friends and relatives react, those that you told, how did they react to the diagnosis?

Very upset, very sorry for me. But they all said that I've handled it well and I never complained. Several of the consultants said that I took everything that was thrown at me, I was very positive and I never complained. That's how they saw it, and I'm glad if that was the way that I acted, I'm glad I didn't bother anybody.

Is that how you feel that you acted?

I suppose so, yes. I can't see there's much point in complaining. I mean people will only be sympathetic for a short space of time. I was very conscious that everybody was doing their part to help me so it was up to me to try and handle the situation as best I could without complaining.

 

Saw no point in worrying about dying from cancer: she preferred to live her life to the full.

Saw no point in worrying about dying from cancer: she preferred to live her life to the full.

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 47
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I'm trying to stay optimistic and positive. Everybody dies. Everybody dies but when you're going to die that depends just on, well your fate, whatever. I mean, it's amazing really, I thought 'oh gosh I'm going to die, I'm going to die', and then so many people have passed on, you know, before me, even my own father's died before me, you know. So you mustn't think about death too much like that. You must keep yourself well. Keep yourself happy. Go out and enjoy yourself. Do everything you've always wanted to do and like I say if you can keep positive and think, you know, what will be, will be. There's no point in worrying about it because I think life's mapped out and, you know, you've just got to get on with it.

They can't predict what is going to happen to you. They can't say this that or the other, you know. Just like, they're expecting mine to reoccur in a year's time, they could be wrong about that. It might be, take ages before it reoccurs, so you've just got to think positive about things.

Before I got cancer I was not making the most of my life. I was working, earning lots of money, stressed out, running around, ignoring my husband, never seeing my family, not looking at birds, how beautiful a bird is, little eyes, little wings, it flies about. Isn't it marvellous how it flies about, you know what I mean? And that's what you've got to do, just make the best of it, you really have.  

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.

 

Was determined to remain positive but acknowledged that had been hard when the cancer returned.

Was determined to remain positive but acknowledged that had been hard when the cancer returned.

Age at interview: 51
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 48
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
This time round it's been a lot harder because physically I've been so low, and it's been a lot harder to keep a smile on my face, but I have managed. I don't want to make out that I'm a saint or anything because I'm not, and I do have my moments of tears and 'Oh why does it have to be like this?', but on the whole I have kept as positive as possible, and I will carry on doing that until they tell me that they can't go any further. And even then I won't give up.

 

Couldn't be positive all the time but sometimes when she had bad days other people made her feel...

Couldn't be positive all the time but sometimes when she had bad days other people made her feel...

Age at interview: 52
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 50
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And the book I'm reading, that I finally' well, my brother tracked down, called, 'Life After Cancer', because it's about what ' you know, how do you get back to some sort of normality, and in there it says 'It's okay to be negative. Everybody says you've got to think positive, you've got to fight cancer', and so on and so forth, all of which I followed and duly did, and maybe it made a difference to how I coped with it. But then you feel guilty if your husband or partner or friends are sitting there saying, 'Well, you know you'll be all right'. 'Come on, you'll be all right' and that, and you feel guilty for having a bad day, which you don't need to be doing, because you're feeling bad anyway.  

And at the end of the day, I say to my husband, 'Yeah, but' though you'd miss me, it's still me that it's happening to'. You know, as close as you are, when it comes to it, to me, a man is an island, you are actually on your own when it comes down to dealing with the' the real nitty-gritty of it, if you've got to go in for another operation or start another course of treatment. You know people are there, but it's you that's, you know, looking at that sign, and thinking, 'God, it's Oncology', you know, and what it means and so on. And it says, 'You mustn't think badly of yourself for having negative days. It's okay'. Because they say, it says in there that heart patients aren't told to fight, stroke patients aren't told to fight, you know, but with cancer, it's, 'Well, you've got to fight it. You've got to think positive all the time', you know, 'Attitude makes a big difference and that'.  Why doesn't it make a difference to heart patients or stroke patients, or' any other 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.

 

Reading about other people's experiences helped her to feel more content.

Reading about other people's experiences helped her to feel more content.

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 47
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And a friend, I got onto this really 'cos a friend gave me a book, which I won't mention but I'll show you, and this book, when you read about this lady who was a healer, it's a lovely book. And when you feel really down and you feel 'what's it all about?' And you're a bit scared and you don't' know where you're going to get the courage to go forward with, and you feel that you're never going to laugh again. You do, you get to a point where you think 'Am I ever going to find anything funny or am I going to be happy again?'  But you are, you do. And when you read this book it's smashing and it makes you feel safe and good and nice and everything.

 

Sad stories of other people's experiences were unhelpful.

Sad stories of other people's experiences were unhelpful.

Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 50
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And I also remember a friend saying to me, 'You know, when you've had cancer, don't talk, talk to people who've been there and come through it. You need to be, you know, mixing with people who are positive'. Because there's always somebody, I found, who could, who would start to talk to you about it, and insist on telling you about somebody they know who was no longer around as a result of it. And I recognised in me that, you know, that wasn't very good at all for my future outlook.  

 

At first found out all she could about cancer but later chose to rely on her own spiritual...

At first found out all she could about cancer but later chose to rely on her own spiritual...

Age at interview: 46
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 39
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
When I first was diagnosed I felt I need to read everything that was ever published about ovarian cancer and cancer in general and talk in chat-rooms to people and just immerse myself in finding out about cancer and people's responses to it. But I found after the first couple of years I had the opposite reaction. 

I thought I knew intellectually all I needed to know and that my journey from there had to be more spiritual and finding what resources I had inside myself to live with this because I don't think about it. I don't think about dying from it. I just think it's a challenge to learn to live with it. 

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.

 

Frequent walks in the fresh sea air helped her to come to terms with her illness.

Frequent walks in the fresh sea air helped her to come to terms with her illness.

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 49
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
So after that I found the best, as I couldn't go and swim in the sea, I'd walk along, get up in the morning, go out, and I was getting up quite early because I was still feeling this, still feeling this constipation, getting up early and trying to go to toilet, so I'd walk along the beach and just the fresh air and the sound of the waves and pounding along that beach really really cleared my head again, you know, I'd got, it's been brilliant being down by the sea, it really has helped me. And I find exercise and walking, well I've always, everything for me is exercise, so exercise cures me and helps, so I've walked I felt, as I've been having the chemo, I've felt weaker in the fact that I can't jog anymore, I walk rather than jog but I pound along the beach, walk that way.  

I can go off in a dream when I'm walking there and I'm thinking miles ahead. Sometimes I get upset, sometimes I can cry there on the beach, you know, you can just sort of let it go. Other times I'm miles away, I'm dreaming I've won the lottery and I'm doing this and I'm doing that, or I'm just thinking over and over what life is and what's it all about, so for me that's my medicine.


Donate to healthtalk.org

Last reviewed June 2016.

donate
Previous Page
Next Page