Distress is a normal response to an abnormal time – which is the situation when cancer is diagnosed and treated. For a long time, the focus on treating cancer was to “get rid of the tumor and then nothing more is needed.” Through the years experts realized that it wasn’t enough just to get rid of the tumor. People with cancer weren’t doing well with their lives and their distress was overwhelming.  For humanistic reasons then, a start was made to include care for the whole person, not expecting any other benefits than lowering the distress they felt – a distress that could be overwhelming and debilitating. Psychosocial care means learning how to lower distress and cope well, be optimistic, find the information you want, have good social support, eat and exercise well, keep a strong sense of personal control, and handle your life well.

As psychosocial oncology research gained in rigor and expertise some startling findings  emerged! The research evidence that psychosocial interventions are effective in adhering to treatments and reducing distress is now strong and convincing. We’ve learned that good psychosocial functioning is essential to health and good cancer outcomes. Besides reducing distress, good coping means that people with cancer have important advantages, including staying with their treatments and increasing their chances of success. In fact, good coping with all that it means including exercising and eating well can prevent some cancers from developing and some from recurring!

Here is a brief summary of the benefits of coping well and reducing your distress:

You are likely to have:

a stronger immune system,
more satisfaction with your treatment,
your treatment be more effective,
lower medical costs,
better nutrition and exercise habits,
more optimism and self-esteem
fewer side effects from the treatments, and
the increased possibility of a better disease course – longer survival and less chance of remission.

Other research has found that good coping can be taught to those with cancer and their families –and that it’s never too late to learn. What’s amazing about this information is that it means that everyone who wants to cope better and have less distress can easily learn how to make it happen.

As a result of this large body of research, the standards of care for those with cancer now include psychosocial care as a regular, important part of treatment. Cancer distress is now considered in Canada to be the 6th vital sign –after temperature, pulse, blood pressure and pain. The Canadian hospital accreditation process has added the delivery of adequate psychosocial care to their list of requirements for hospital accreditation. The Institute of Medicine 2007 (US) stated that, “the standard for cancer care must include psychosocial care.”

What else have we learned? The sooner after diagnosis you learn about your distress the sooner you can start getting psychosocial support and gain the benefits. Where do you find psychosocial care? Your university cancer centre may have programs, you can speak to your nurse clinician, social worker or physician about it, look at community resources like Wellspring and YMCA’s, or contact private and public resources such as counseling or social services.
It’s not only a good idea to get psychosocial support and learn good coping strategies, it’s just about essential. It makes you feel better and in control of yourself and tells the world that you are smart, resourceful, optimistic, practical, and strong. 

Dr. Linda Edgar, RN, PhD

OF NOTE (Susan Snow)

In rural communities your Doctor may know where you can go for help, try to get in touch with others that have gone through cancer they can be a wealth of information in dealing with these issues.  In Creston or outside of Creston, please call me - Susan Snow (250)428-2470 - I have taken calls from people all over North America and would love to talk to anyone with questions.  I have been trained by the Canadian Colon Cancer Association to be a Cancer Coach and you may also contact them directly at the number below.  They have coaches in most every province in Canada and they can put you in touch with someone near you.  A lot of Cancer Agencies and Associations might have Cancer Coach programs where you can speak to someone that has gone through the same cancer, and many of those numbers are on our links page.  The Canadian Cancer Society also has a Cancer Coach program as well.  Please give someone a call - Attitude is half the battle - it not more.

Contact the Canadian Colon Cancer Association at:
60 St. Clair Avenue East Suite 204 Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4T 1N5 Telephone: (416) 920-4333 Fax: (416) 920-3004 E-Mail:

Psychosocial Aspects of Cancer
Dr. Linda Edgar, RN, PhD
Canadian Colon Cancer Association