3 Ways to Conquer Chemo Anxiety

By Kathleen Engel
Reviewed by Marc Garnick, MD; Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS; Theodore Tsangaris, MD

When you’re preparing for treatment, it’s natural to feel anxious. But remember, millions have gone through chemo and are doing great. They may even include your neighbors, friends and co-workers. Here, a few chemo veterans share the strategies that kept their stress low and their spirits high throughout treatment.

1. Talk it out.
“After surgery and chemo, I started seeing a therapist and stuck with her for a year and a half. It helped that she was not ‘family.’ I could share anything with this person,” says Jacki, who underwent treatment for breast cancer several years ago.

  • Why it works: “Therapy can offer you a safe place to express feelings you may not be comfortable sharing with loved ones,” says Erin M. Rafter, PhD, a psychologist at The Gathering Place in Westlake, OH. “A professional can help you learn coping strategies and different perspectives to help you through the process of treatment.”
  • To try it: Contact CancerCare (800-813-4673, cancercare.org) for free phone counseling or referrals to resources in your community.

2. Take a stroll, walk the dog, go to a putting green.
“I didn’t want to go out and see my friends or do anything,” says Sally, a colon cancer survivor. “Then my neighbor friend took me for a walk. Wow! There’s no question that it helped my mood.”

  • Why it works: The latest guidelines from the American Council on Sports Medicine urge people undergoing chemo to exercise as much as those not going through the treatment—about two and a half hours a week. Studies show getting in some physical activity can reduce anxiety, preserve strength and counter fatigue.
  • To try it: It’s as easy as taking a walk, but if you prefer more structured activity, try an exercise program designed especially for cancer patients (check with your hospital). And clear any program with your oncologist.

3. Say yes to help.
“People will come out of the woodwork to help,” says Irene, a one-year cancer survivor. “Do not be too proud to take them up on their offers.”

  • Why it works: “Accepting help is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of friendship,” says Lillie Shockney, RN, MAS, a two-time breast cancer survivor and the administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Clinical Breast Programs and Cancer Survivorship Programs. “Make a list of the errands you will need help with. Ask people to fix casseroles you can freeze.” Leaning on others to handle small daily hassles relieves stress and enhances the healing process.  
Published March 2014

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