Do You Have a Sarcoma? How to Cope With This Cancer Type

Tips to get through emotions and treatment

If you are diagnosed with a sarcoma, there are people who can help you cope with treatment and the impact on your life.

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“Cancer’s never easy, no matter what the specific disease type is,” says psychosocial oncologist, Joel Marcus, PsyD. But working with a clinical psychologist can help.

“We look at how a cancer diagnosis impacts the way people think about themselves, the way they think about others and how they may interpret the world,” he says.

There are challenges every patient faces after surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. But you don’t have to face them alone, Dr. Marcus says.

He says there are four common issues you can expect:

1. Radiation-related fatigue + how to fight it

While everyone reacts differently to treatment, fatigue is a very common side effect. It’s particularly common if radiation therapy is part of your treatment.

“Throughout most of our lives, we’re told to take a nap when we’re tired,” Dr. Marcus says. “Well, that might not necessarily be the best thing to do when people have fatigue from radiation.”

Fatigue from radiation treatment — or even from the sarcoma itself — is a different feeling from being tired of the daily grind of life. It can last a long time, but typically goes away after treatment, he says.

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You may find yourself craving naps, but it’s important not to overdo them. “Frequent naps can disrupt your sleep/wake cycle,” he explains.

Instead, do the following to combat radiation-related fatigue:

  • Keep yourself hydrated.
  • Avoid extreme temperatures.
  • Try to exercise more (but don’t overdo it).
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Take one power nap that is less than an hour each day.

Finally, be sure your treatment team monitors your blood count. Anemia can be a side effect of treatment and that can lead to fatigue as well, Dr. Marcus says.

“If you’re still experiencing a level of fatigue that is outside of the normal, talk to your physician,” he says.

2. Feeling afraid + how to deal with it

Feeling afraid that the sarcoma will come back is also a real concern for many patients. Fear is normal when you’re dealing with cancer.

“It’s OK to feel fear and to cry,” Dr. Marcus says. If you don’t, you may wall yourself off and become isolated. And that just makes the fear worse.

“When you’re living in that isolation, the mind — while it’s a wonderful thing — can also magnify and distort symptoms and responses,” he says.

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3. Body image worries + how to ease them

Sarcoma and its treatment often can affect the way you look. “This is particularly the case with osteosarcomas for young people,” Dr. Marcus says.

Surgeons have made great strides with limb-sparing surgery for treating sarcoma. But you still may face an extended period of chemotherapy (and the illness, hair loss and feelings of isolation that go along with it). And some cases still may require amputation.

Whether you have a visible scar from surgery, thinning hair or have lost a limb, you may feel self-conscious about your body image, Dr. Marcus says.

“Younger adults with sarcoma may have concerns about dating — because they have only one leg or they might worry about their hair because they lost it during chemotherapy,” Dr. Marcus says. “They’re often unsure how to approach these challenges and address it with others.”

Here are some tips for all ages:

  • Talk openly about how you feel.
  • Give yourself time to get used to body changes.
  • Consider reaching out to a psychologist for help practicing social skills. Simple things like making eye contact, smiling and standing with your shoulders back and head up can boost your confidence and help you project a more confident image to others as well.

After your treatment, you may have to learn to adapt to certain changes from your surgery. Remember that being open about your feelings is a first and crucial step in moving forward after sarcoma treatment.

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