Self-Care and Spiritual Wellness for Those with Cancer

Scott Sanders
April 10, 2019

By Scott Sanders from

Cancer is one of the most prevalent diseases on earth. Worldwide, 12.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year, and 7.8 million die from it. The total number of cancer cases in the United States is currently about 1.7 million. As of January 2016, it’s estimated that over 15.5 million US Americans who had a history of cancer were still alive. So perhaps the one upshot of cancer is that it’s treatable. By some estimates, almost 40 percent of cancers are preventable if patients adapt their lifestyles. That might mean drinking less, ditching cigarettes, and exercising regularly. Another effective lifestyle change is practicing self-care and spiritual wellness. For tips and advice on this subject, read on.

Medical Treatment

If you are diagnosed with cancer, consult an oncologist at once. The only effective treatments for cancer are standard medical care plans accepted within the scientific community. These include hormone therapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and surgery, among others. Each treatment procedure comes with its own pros and cons, so be sure to consult your doctor about the physical and psychological side effects, clinical trials, and drugs and medications associated with each one.

Safe Use of Opioids

The history of opioid addiction in the United States is complex, but here’s a recent rundown of the facts. In the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies began pushing doctors to prescribe opioids to people suffering from chronic pain, including cancer patients. The effect was that the US was soon consuming more opioids than any other country in the world. In turn, that fueled the opioid epidemic that we’re currently in, with deaths related to heroin and non-methadone synthetics soaring over the last 10 to 15 years.

Another result has been that some cancer patients, in the course of their recovery, also became addicted to opioids. The risks and dangers here are real, so confirm with your physician that the prescription he writes is appropriate for you. Ask that he double-checks the dosage and talks you through the risks associated with each drug. Cite the CDC’s Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain (which you can find online). Have this conversation with your pharmacist, as well. And if you experience symptoms associated with opioid use – fatigue, confusion, dizziness, as if drifting through a fog – stop taking it at once and call your doctor.

Spiritual Wellness

While the treatment plans above are the most medically sound cancer therapies, the National Cancer Institute lists integrative, alternative, and complementary medicines on its website. These are considered supplements to standard treatments and include ayurvedic healing or acupuncture. Perhaps one reason they’re mentioned, despite outlying mainstream medicine, is because they resonate with people. Cancer overwhelms patients with fear and panic. They may be afraid that their lives are ending, which might force them to confront questions of mortality. Spirituality wrestles with these questions and provides solace for those who feel fragile or devastated. So if talking with a religious leader, or visiting your church, temple, mosque, or other house of worship helps you feel at peace, then by all means, keep doing it.


The basic idea of self-care is to be kind to yourself so that you can be kind to others. Said simply, it’s a way of applying the Golden Rule to yourself. And it pertains to this situation, as well. Medical treatment is indispensable to healing physical ailments related to cancer. But many people undergoing this recovery also come to understand that they are not simply their symptoms. So when you’re outside of the hospital, be sure to take care of yourself. Plant a garden. Journal your thoughts. Unplug your iPhone and iPad. Hike through the fall woods. And spend time around your friends and family – because cultivating a strong support network is perhaps the best way to center your world and feel focused and whole.

Seeking proven medical treatment for your cancer diagnosis is imperative for your health. However, don’t neglect self-care in the process, and be sure you’re mindful of the medications you’re taking as you embark on this journey.

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