By Leslie Vandever

Most of us think of cancer as being curable or not-curable, with few—if any—stages in between. But the fact is that many people live with cancer. Their disease might be in remission, or stable: their cancer isn’t gone, but it isn’t growing or spreading. For others, cancer is chronic, and kept under control with regular treatment, along with periodic tests and check-ups.

There’s no denying that having an incurable cancer is daunting. It’s natural to be afraid and resentful; after all, you didn’t ask to get sick! Any chronic illness can force lifestyle and other changes, some of them unpleasant. You may have to give up activities you love and enjoy, cope with new physical limitations and special needs, and be dependent upon others to handle even the small things. You may feel pressured and very alone.

The good news is that your disheveled emotions regarding your chronic cancer are all completely normal—even healthy. You can manage your physical, mental, and emotional health so that you can live joyfully and well in spite of your illness. What follows are ways to get started.

When You’re Feeling More Than Blue

Depression is common among people who live with chronic illness. It’s important to know the symptoms so you can get help as soon as you can. Symptoms of depression, which may show up all day, nearly every day, include:

  • feeling sad and worthless
  • irritability or anger, even over little things
  • loss of interest in life
  • insomnia or sleeping too much
  • fatigue that sleeping doesn’t help
  • trouble focusing and making decisions
  • restlessness and anxiety
  • guilt and self-blame
  • thinking a lot about death, or suicidal thoughts or attempts

If you’re experiencing these symptoms of depression, talk to your doctor. She may be able to help you herself, or may refer you to a mental health specialist who can. Depression strikes a third of all people who have chronic illnesses, but it is treatable.


Take Your Medicine

Be sure to take your medications, sticking carefully to the dosage instructions and schedule. Be sure you understand why you’re taking them and what they’re expected to do. If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor.

Love and Care for Yourself

To feel your best while coping with chronic cancer, you’ll need to treat yourself like your very best friend. Give yourself the basic things your body and mind need to thrive:

  • Eat a simple, healthy diet that includes lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain breads and pastas, lean meat and fish, beans, nuts and legumes, and low-fat dairy foods. Limit sweets, sugary beverages, and processed foods. Drink at least six measuring cups of water each day.
  • Aim for at least six hours of sleep (eight is better) each night, and if you need a nap during the day, nap no more than 30 minutes.
  • Move your body. You can try stretching exercises, or resistance bands, or light hand- and ankle-weights. Walking, swimming, and yoga or tai chi are excellent. Get and stay strong and limber. It’s as good for the mind as it is for the body.
  • Try to get out and about. Visit with friends and socialize. Talking and laughing are potent feel-good medicines.

For more information on living with and treating cancer visit

Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California.