Your Psychological Preparation for Treatment

It can be difficult to know where to start when preparing yourself for treatment. A diagnosis of cancer is often sudden and unexpected. It is common for difficult feelings to show up following diagnosis and you may be trying to make sense of these feelings while making decisions about treatment.

Preparing for treatment can be stressful 

You may be busy making practical arrangements and getting yourself physically ready for treatment. Preparing for treatment can be stressful and you may feel you have little time to prepare yourself psychologically before treatment starts.

We all have different ways of managing or coping in stressful situations which we learn over time. The ways in which we manage stress are influenced by the nature of the stressful situation we are facing, our previous experience of managing stress, as well as individual differences such as personality. There are no right or wrong ways to manage stress. Instead, it is about having a range of helpful strategies you can use to help you manage the things you have control over.

Some people find it helpful to seek more information, some problem-solve, some use distraction, some minimise, some use humour and some find it helpful to talk things through. You may use different strategies depending on what feels helpful at the time.

You may find that previously helpful coping strategies are no longer as effective. In this case, it might be helpful to consider other ways to manage stress and prepare yourself psychologically for treatment.

Research suggests that psychological preparation for treatment can improve both short and long term clinical outcomes. For example, improved psychological wellbeing optimises healing and recovery following treatment.

It is normal to experience a range of different feelings at diagnosis, treatment and during recovery. We all have different ways in which we experience and manage our feelings.

You are the expert in understanding and managing your feelings.

Our thoughts and feelings influence our behaviour and what we do. This means that difficult thoughts or feelings might interfere with our ability to engage with treatment and recovery. For example, worries about treatment may influence decision-making and preparation for treatment. This is why it is important to notice any changes in how you are feeling and to consider what you can do to help manage your feelings more effectively. Acknowledging what feels difficult and what might help you manage more effectively is part of preparing yourself psychologically for treatment.

Psychological preparation involves tuning into any concerns or worries you may have about treatment. You may benefit from further information or there may be ways in which you could feel more in control of decisions about your treatment. It is important to understand the limits of what you can and cannot control. You are the expert in understanding and managing your feelings. It is common to experience difficult feelings before treatment and there may be strategies which help you tolerate and manage these feelings. There may also be practical preparations you could make which you have more control over.

A key part of psychological preparation is knowing how your feelings might show up and knowing what you can do to help manage these feelings. Identifying strategies to help manage your feelings and ways to promote your wellbeing can optimise your recovery in the long term. Part of understanding our feelings is also knowing when to seek support if feelings become unmanageable or overwhelming.

Your Psychological Wellbeing Checklist

Use the Wellbeing Self-Evaluation Tool to help you identify when to seek support and whom to seek support from. 

Consider what questions you have about your treatment. If you require general information about different types of cancer and treatment, a visit to the Macmillan Information Centre or the Macmillan website may be helpful. You may have specific questions relating to your treatment. In that case, you may want to ask a healthcare professional involved in your care.

Consider whether you understand and agree with your treatment plan. If you have any concerns or questions about your treatment plan, it might be helpful to discuss further with a health professional involved in your care. It is important that you make an informed decision about your treatment.

Think about a time in your life when you experienced a feeling such as stress, worry, fear, anger or low mood. Reflect back on whether there were any changes in your thinking or worries you may have had, there may have been changes in your body (e.g. increased heart rate, tension, sleep issues). Think about how you would recognise this feeling if it showed up for you again.

Think about what you already do to help manage how you feel. You may be able to do more of what you know already helps. Consider whether there are other ways you could improve your wellbeing during treatment. Thinking about how to prepare yourself psychologically for treatment might be helpful.

Consider whether there are situations or triggers that may lead to you feeling overwhelmed. Think about what changes other people might notice in you if you began to feel overwhelmed. It can be useful to think about what might help and what you need from others if you experience difficulties managing your feelings in the future.  Use the Wellbeing Self-Evaluation Tool to help you identify when to seek support and whom to seek support from. It may also be helpful to think about what you can do to prepare yourself psychologically for treatment.

Think about who you would feel comfortable sharing your feelings with. Sometimes it can be helpful to speak to a family member, friend or a healthcare professional you know. Some people prefer to speak to someone neutral who is not a family member, friend or directly involved in their care. Consider who may be most helpful to speak to depending on how you feel. Use the Wellbeing Self-Evaluation Tool (insert link) to help you identify when to seek support and whom to seek support from.

Further support and help:

The advice on these pages is designed to help you prepare for the treatment ahead and support you through to recovery.

If you need further advice and support please discuss this with your key worker or healthcare professional.

  • Cardiff and Vale University Health Board Cancer support line:
    02920 745655  (9:00am to 12:30pm and 1:30pm to 4:00pm)
  • Macmillan Cancer Support:
    0808 808 00 00
  • Maggie’s Cardiff:
    029 2240 8024
  • Tenovus Cancer Care:
    0808 808 1010
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