Riding the waves of uncertainty

4 May 2017 -

By Jenny Allison

When a person is diagnosed with a blood cancer there are so many questions with unknown answers and they are confronted with many uncertainties. There are some questions that even your specialist may find difficult to answer.

For some people the unknown isn’t a point of worry, however for others, uncertainty can be difficult to live with and can cause significant distress and anxiety. If you are dealing with uncertainty you may notice that you are feeling worried or wound up, you may be struggling to sleep, or you may be irritable and snappy.

For those living with a blood cancer, there are three certain time points when people are more likely to be distressed; when people have just been diagnosed, when they are waiting for treatment to begin and when treatment has finished and people are faced with looking into the future.

A common response to uncertainty is reassurance that everything will be ok and often our friends and family may also try this approach. Although they are meant to be helpful, often people find them frustrating because they can minimise feelings.

Below are some practical tips to help you manage feelings of uncertainty.

Recognise it

Try to recognise if living with uncertainty is a struggle for you. If it is, remind yourself that it is normal to be upset by not knowing what lies ahead. Sometimes simply acknowledging we feel this way is enough to help ease the distress.

Focus on what you do know

Try and focus on what you do know and what you can control. It might not feel like much, but it is likely that there are things that can create some certainty. You can seek information from an LBC Support Services Coordinator or your specialist. You can ask questions about your condition, what treatment might be like, what your prognosis is or what is happening in your body. Or you can gain control by ‘taking charge’ of how you want to manage your situation. Make decisions about things such as how much information you want to share with people, your daily routine or where you seek support.

Break things into small chunks

Often people get overwhelmed when they think about everything that is in front of them and it is often the far future that is most uncertain and scary. Breaking things down into chunks can help us to cope – this might mean trying to take things one day at a time, just getting to the next stage of treatment, or to the next appointment. Mindfulness based stress reduction courses teach the principles of mindfulness to help manage the stress and anxiety that can be associated with a diagnosis. You can explore more about mindfulness through Leukaemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand who run mindfulness based stress reduction courses.

Trying these strategies can help you to manage the uncertainties that come with a diagnosis of cancer. However, if you would like to discuss this more you can contact an LBC Support Services Coordinator.

Jenny Allison is a health psychologist in the Auckland District Health Board and was a guest speaker at a recent LBC educational support group.