The time immediately after a major diagnosis can be chaotic, physically and emotionally. There are doctors’ appointments to schedule, family and work logistics to settle, and treatments to consider.
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It’s also a stressful and anxious time as you ponder the road ahead and worry about the outcomes. And with so much focus on other things, it can be easy to lose track of taking time for self-care.
Self-care, especially when diagnosed with lymphoma, is a key part of processing your diagnosis and managing stress levels throughout your treatment.
Lymphoma is classified by two different groups:
- Hodgkin lymphoma. This type of blood cancer is categorized by the presence of abnormal cells called Reed-Sternberg cells.
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. If Reed-Sternberg cells aren’t detected, the lymphoma is considered this. This includes diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) and follicular lymphoma (FL).
To get a better understanding of why self-care is so important for people being treated for lymphoma and how they can best practice it, we spoke to oncology social worker Ilana Spaulding, MSW, LISW.
After your lymphoma diagnosis
Once you receive the diagnosis, you’re likely to go through a range of emotions, including shock. The 24 to 48 hours after will also likely be an emotionally turbulent time, and self-care is important to help you get through this.
Recognize your emotions
It’s OK not to be OK. Remember that mantra and don’t try to bury or ignore all the different feelings (sadness, anger, fear, etc.) that you’re having.
Allow yourself the time and space to think through and talk about your feelings. And if you want to have a good cry, by all means, cry.
“Just by recognizing and naming our emotions, we can lessen the intensity of the difficult feeling,” encourages Spaulding. “This is often referred to as ‘name it to tame it.’ Once we’re aware of how we feel, we can also decipher how to best cope moving forward.”
Lean on friends and family
The day or two immediately following the diagnosis can be particularly hard on a person, so it’s important to have a close family member or friend to lean on for immediate support.
“Choose someone who you trust, who you’re comfortable to be vulnerable with and allow yourself to feel everything you’re feeling, which can run the gamut,” advises Spaulding.
Managing stress during treatment
As you move forward after those first post-diagnosis days, it’s time to turn your attention to making a plan for care and support during your treatment. And self-care should be part of it. Spaulding suggests a few ways to help manage your stress.
Listen to music
You may already be a music lover, but research shows that listening to tunes can help ease pain, fatigue and anxiety and lower your heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.
So, whether you’re streaming Lizzo or spinning Rolling Stone records, the effects of music can be beneficial for your self-care during your lymphoma treatment.
“We know that playing or listening to music can improve your mood, lessen anxiety and even help to decrease pain perception,” reinforces Spaulding. “Make a playlist for your treatment day with tunes you enjoy and ask to meet with your cancer center’s music therapist.”
Spend time outdoors
Whether you take a hike through the woods or just a stroll around the block, getting outdoors and soaking up the fresh air and sunlight can be beneficial.
And even if you’re just enjoying a cup of coffee or tea out in your backyard or pulling weeds from your garden, you can reap the rewards.
“Being outdoors can be incredibly calming. Try taking a ‘nature bath.’ Nature baths come from a Japanese concept called ‘shinrin-yoku,’ which means forest bathing or relaxing in a forest atmosphere,” says Spaulding. “Take note of the smells of the fresh forest air, the sound of the wind and the colors of the trees. Focusing in on these sights and sounds will allow you to be present and grounded in the moment. Nature is a soothing setting that can boost your mood and overall sense of well-being.”
Try yoga or meditation
Practicing yoga or meditation can bring you calm and joy. These activities can aid both your emotional and physical health, a vital combo. If you’ve never tried these activities before but think you could benefit from them during this time, it may be worth it.
“If an activity is safe and accessible and you’re interested, try it out,” suggests Spaulding.
Focus on your basic needs
Everyone handles a cancer diagnosis differently, but however you react, you need to continue focusing on your basic needs like:
- Taking a shower.
- Staying hydrated.
- Eating healthily.
- Going to bed at your regular time to get a good night’s sleep.
“It sounds simple,” says Spaulding, “but when you’re able to take of your basic needs, it’s going to help your overall emotional and physical well-being while you’re in such a state of shock and vulnerability.”
Broaden your support circle
As you absorb and process your diagnosis, you may feel more comfortable reaching out to more people you trust, like additional family members and close friends, to broaden your support network.
“If you’re comfortable, sharing about your new diagnosis with your extended support system can be a reminder that you are cared for by many during this challenging time,” says Spaulding.
That network can provide lymphoma support by helping you with your care plan, arranging rides to appointments, meal deliveries or just sending you cards to brighten your day.
You may also want to look into various lymphoma support groups — some meet in person while others are online. It can be helpful to talk to others who are going through the same journey as you.
“Knowing you have that network can help you feel encouraged as you’re getting started on your treatment journey,” Spaulding adds.
Start a cancer journal
Studies show that people who journal or write down their thoughts and feelings tend to have lower stress and anxiety — and journaling can help you sleep better.
Don’t worry about what you write — you don’t have to share your journal with anyone if you don’t feel comfortable. Journaling is more of an outlet to help you process whatever you’re going through.
Writing promotes emotional healing and can be very cathartic for many people who have cancer. Writing can be done in several ways: in a private journal, on an online blog or through social media posts.
“Keeping a gratitude journal has also been shown to be highly beneficial for patients navigating a cancer diagnosis,” says Spaulding. “Practicing daily gratitude increases levels of well-being and happiness. It can also be helpful to look back at on more difficult days.”
Whether you’re already in therapy or aren’t currently seeing a therapist, Spaulding shares that counseling can be a helpful resource on your cancer journey.
“Working with a mental health provider can help you to develop and refine coping skills to best manage emotions and challenges that may arise throughout your treatment experience,” she says. “It can help you process and healthily move through those emotions, whether that be an adjustment to diagnosis, anxiety or feelings of depression.”
Spaulding also recommends looking into wellness services where you’re receiving treatment. Many healthcare systems provide complementary self-care services for patients, including massages, facials, Reiki and reflexology.
“Engaging in these services allows you to feel like you’re proactively taking care of your body,” she notes.
And, finally, relying on your care team and your social worker that your healthcare provider offers is one more good measure.
“Oncology social workers are available to help you navigate these difficult, challenging times. Treatment for lymphoma isn’t just a physical experience, but also an emotional and psychological one,” Spaulding recognizes. “These resources are an important piece of your treatment experience.”