Survivorship

The Power of Resilience

by Abby R. Rosenberg, MD, MS, Hematology-Oncology, acting instructor and senior fellow, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington

For many cancer survivors, the aftermath of treatment can have a profound and lasting impact not only on their body but on their mind as well. For some, it’s natural to develop a positive outlook on life during and after treatment, while others struggle to find any positive meaning in their difficult cancer journey. Studies have shown that survivors who identify their stressors, manage their stress, and derive strength from their experience with cancer have more resilience and, therefore, a better overall quality of life.

Resilience in cancer survivors may include a lack of psychological distress or a positive outcome such as post-traumatic growth, or finding meaning from traumatic experiences. Researchers have found that resilience can moderate the effects of medical stress and improve life satisfaction among cancer survivors.

So how does one go about developing resilience? For some survivors, resilience seems to be a personality trait. Others work to improve their outlook on life through support and practice. For many, the following tips have proven helpful in strengthening resilience:

  • Realize some things in life are out of your control
  • Find strength in what you can control, such as:
    • Lessons you can take away from your experience
    • Outlook on life
  • Identify what causes you stress and anxiety and implement strategies to manage your stress
  • When thinking back on your experience, reflect on what you learned about yourself and your own strength

Coping with cancer is no easy task, but learning to manage stress can help make the journey a little easier. Stress can present itself in a variety of ways, including sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches, poor concentration, and depression. It is important to recognize these warning signs and work to reduce your stress. For many, surrounding yourself with a support team, talking with other cancer survivors, exercising, and eating a healthy diet help reduce stress and anxiety. If you’d like help coping with stress and anxiety or would like to learn more on the topic of resilience, please contact us at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Survivorship Clinic at (206) 288-1024.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are some ways I can thrive or move forward from my experience?

There are many ways to achieve resilience, and the first step is recognizing that there are some things you cannot control and concentrating on those you can. Focusing on deriving lessons learned is a helpful way to put a positive lens on your experience. Thinking back on the strength it took for you to fight cancer and the team that supported you during your journey may also help you recognize the inspirational path you have walked and the opportunities ahead of you. Additionally, identifying the things that cause you stress and anxiety and working to reduce their impact in your life will help you to thrive.

Q: How can I better manage my stress and anxiety?

Returning to your new normal after cancer treatment can present its own set of stressors, especially since everyday tasks may have been understandably pushed aside during treatment. While some things in life are out of our control, developing coping mechanisms can help you reduce stress and anxiety. Recognizing what causes you anxiety is the first step to better managing stress. Be aware of signs of stress, including sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches, poor concentration, and depression, and reflect on what may be causing this stress or anxiety. Once you recognize the causes, you can assert control over the situation by surrounding yourself with your support team, talking with other cancer survivors about your shared experiences, exercising, eating a healthy diet, and seeking additional help if needed.