Hope, the belief that a positive outcome lies ahead, can be difficult to hold onto in the face of cancer. Knowing why hope is important, and how to create a sense of hope in your life, can help you approach survivorship with strength and confidence.
Hope: Detailed Information
This information is meant to be a general introduction to this topic. The purpose is to provide a starting point for you to become more informed about important matters that may be affecting your life as a survivor and to provide ideas about steps you can take to learn more. This information is not intended nor should it be interpreted as providing professional medical, legal and financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information. Please read the Suggestions and Additional Resources sections for questions to ask and for more resources.
Hope is the belief or expectation that a positive outcome lies ahead. It is a way of thinking, feeling, and acting that may help you find ways to live with and through difficult situations. However, hope can sometimes be difficult to hold onto in the face of cancer. Knowing why hope is important and how to create a sense of hope in your life, may help you find the strength and confidence that are needed during the cancer journey.
How can survivors find hope?
People hope for different things at different times in their lives. When cancer is diagnosed, you probably hoped that treatment would be successful and that the cancer would go into remission. You may have relied on hope to get you through the difficult days of diagnosis and treatment and the changes that happened in your life.
After treatment is done, there can be a new set of concerns about what life will be like after cancer. You may wonder how you will deal with post-treatment changes. Deciding what role hope will play as you manage changes and uncertainties can help you find ongoing sources of strength and positive thinking.
- Hope through sharing
Some survivors find hope by talking with other people. Your health care team can help you understand and make treatment and follow-up choices that will help you feel more confident and hopeful about your future. Loved ones, friends, co-workers, and others can also provide support and bring hope to your situation. Sharing your story with other survivors, and learning about the challenges and joys they experience in their survivorship, can be an important source of hope.
- Look to the future
Survivors often find hope by looking forward to planned events, like a child’s graduation from high school, a wedding, or another type of gathering with friends and loved ones. Some work projects or hobbies may capture your attention, give you a sense of purpose, and help you look to the future when they will be completed.
- Comfort through beliefs
Many find hope through spirituality, religion or philosophy. Those survivors who use this type of foundation for hope often believe that a higher power is helping them through the ups and downs of the cancer journey. For some, there can be a great help and comfort in learning how others have viewed challenges, talking with a faith-based leader, or by attending spiritual support groups.
- Fact-based research
Some survivors prefer to use a scientific or evidence-based method to find facts and hope. They may search for research information about treatment and other cancer topics. They may also seek opinions from medical personnel or spend time learning about specific cancer topics, treatment options, and survivorship recommendations through health care journals or online.
In most cases, survivors will use some combination of the above approaches to find hope. There is no right or wrong way to hope. Talk with your loved ones and health care team if you find that it becomes difficult to hold onto hope or that you are feeling depressed, anxious or overwhelmed.
The following methods may help you define and hold onto hope in your life:
- Share your hopes with other people
- Write down your hopeful thoughts and feelings in a journal
- Talk with other survivors about ways to remain hopeful
What is the difference between hope and denial?
Holding onto hope and denial are not the same thing. Denial means that one is avoiding reality and refusing to admit the truth. This may result in pretending things are going well when they really are not. Experts who have studied hope say that, while having hope may help ease overwhelming doubts and fears, it is not denial. Hope is realistic. It is being honest with one’s self about the current situation while still looking forward to positive outcomes in the future. Survivors who are struggling with life after cancer may find that hope gives them vitality and courage during their survivorship.
Some survivors find it easy to feel hopeful and never give the concept of hope much thought. Others may think that having hope is important, but may not be sure how to hold onto that feeling during some experiences. The experience of hope is very personal, and it is different for every person.
Does hope change over time?
Hope is flexible and changes as you go through experiences. Only you will know what works best for you. In some cases, others might try to tell you that your situation is hopeless or that what you hope for is unreasonable. That can be very difficult to hear, and it can make it more difficult for you to manage your current situation.
If you realize that something you had hoped for does not appear to be happening, it may become necessary to refocus on other types of hopes. The outcome of situations cannot always be changed. However, you can decide what part hope will play in helping you deal with that situation.
Sometimes, the changes that come with cancer can feel overwhelming and cause a great deal of uncertainty. Hope can help you move forward despite bad news and disappointments. Hope may help you find the strength and courage to face the new and ongoing challenges.
Many cancer survivors have faced difficult situations in the past. They may continue to face challenges during treatment and after treatment is done. At times, it may be hard to remain hopeful. However, there are likely to be ways to renew a sense of hope even in the most challenging of times.
This document was produced by LIVESTRONG in collaboration with:
Elizabeth J. Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH
National Association of Social Workers
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The suggestions that follow are based on the information presented in the Detailed Information document. They are meant to help you take what you learn and apply the information to your own needs. This information is not intended nor should it be interpreted as providing professional medical, legal and financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information. Please read the Additional Resources document for links to more resources.
- Share your hopes with other people.
Having a conversation about hope with your loved ones and your health care team can be difficult. However, if they do not know what your hopes are, they may not be able to provide the type of support you need during difficult times.
- You may need to be direct and tell others what you find to be hopeful and helpful.
- You also can tell others what makes you feel hopeless so that they can help you with your feelings.
- Let others know that you are trying to stay positive and that you want to talk about things that help you feel hopeful.
- Write down your thoughts and feelings about hope in a journal.
Keeping a diary or journal may help you understand the role hope plays in your life.
- You might find it helpful to keep a hope journal where you record helpful sayings, note your progress and list what you are hoping for or what gave you hope on a particular day.
- You may also find it helpful to express your hope through other forms of creativity, such as drawings or scrapbooking. Use the cards you have received, words of encouragement and support that have been shared by others, as well as your own inspirations. Put them into a scrapbook or collage to express your hope.
- You are free to write about anything you like, including:
- Hopes and fears
- Your life after treatment
- What it means to you to be a cancer survivor
- Your plans for the present and the future
- You may find the process of journaling helps you recognize areas in your life that you can feel good about and areas that you want to change.
- Find a quiet, comfortable spot to do your writing. Spend as much time writing as you want. You can write several pages, a couple of lines or even just one word to express how you feel or what you are thinking.
- Talk to other survivors about finding hope:
- You might ask a member of your health care team if they know a long-term survivor with a similar diagnosis who would speak with you. It's sometimes helpful to meet others who have been where you are and have been able to live fully despite a cancer diagnosis.
- Support groups provide a safe environment to share experiences with other survivors, learn new ways to handle difficult situations and talk about emotions. You will see different styles of coping with stress and adjusting to life as a cancer survivor. If you are uncomfortable talking about certain subjects with your family or friends, a support group offers you a place to talk freely about what is important to you.
- Ways to find out more about support groups in your area:
- Ask a member of your health care team for suggestions. Some cancer programs offer support groups for cancer survivors and their family members in the clinic or hospital.
- Call a nearby cancer center or university hospital and ask about support groups.
- Visit LIVESTRONG Cancer Navigation Services at LIVESTRONG.org/GetHelp, or call 1.855.220.7777 for information on support.
- Contact nonprofit cancer organizations, such as the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org or 1-800-227-2345, to request a list of support groups and cancer centers in your area.
- Talk to a therapist if trying to find hope causes depression, anxiety or overwhelms you in any way.
- Ask a member of your health care team for a referral to a therapist who works with other cancer survivors. Most cancer centers employ oncology social workers who are specially trained to work with cancer survivors and their families. Even if you are not a patient at a cancer center, the oncology social worker may meet with you or refer you to someone else in the community.
- It is important to interview the therapist to find out if he or she is the right professional for you. Speak honestly with the therapist and let him or her know your reasons for wanting to work with a therapist.
- Examples of questions to ask the therapist:
- What type of educational background do you have?
- Are you licensed in this state?
- What is your experience working with people with cancer?
- What do you understand about the emotional response to this illness?
- Do you work with people who are anxious? Depressed?
- Do you know community resources for people with cancer?
- Will my insurance cover your services?
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Hope: Additional Resources
The previous sections of this document provide detailed information, suggestions, and questions to ask related to this topic. This section offers a listing of additional resources that are known to provide support and quality services that may be helpful to survivors during the cancer journey.
LIVESTRONG Cancer Navigation Center
||1.855.220.7777 (English and Spanish)
||Navigators are available for calls Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Central Time). Voicemail is available after hours.
The Navigation Center provides free, confidential one-on-one support to anyone affected by cancer. This is not a medical facility, but rather a center that provides the following support services:
- Emotional Support—assistance coping with a cancer diagnosis, help accessing support groups, as well as peer-to-peer connections
- Fertility Risks and Preservation Options—information on fertility risks and help accessing discounted rates for fertility preservation options
- Insurance, Employment and Financial Concerns—information on employment rights and benefits, financial assistance and debt management, including insurance and billing issues as well as medication co-pay assistance
In addition to professional cancer navigators on staff, LIVESTRONG
partners with specialty organizations such as Patient Advocate Foundation, Imerman Angels, Navigate Cancer Foundation and EmergingMed to provide support services.
American Cancer Society (ACS)
||Submit questions in English or Spanish from the “Contact Us” page.
||TTY for deaf or hard of hearing callers: 1-866-228-4327
The American Cancer Society (ACS) offers information about many of the challenges of cancer and survivorship. You can search for information by cancer type or by topic. ACS provides a list of support groups in your area. ACS can connect you to support and services in your area. You can join online groups and message boards. Some information on the website is available in Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. ACS specialists can answer questions 24 hours a day by phone or email.
Cancer Hope Network
||This number is answered Monday-Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (EST). Voicemail is available after hours.
Cancer Hope Network is a not-for-profit organization that provides free and confidential one-on-one support to cancer patients and their families. They offer support by matching cancer patients or family members with trained volunteers who have already undergone and recovered from a similar cancer experience. You can submit your request by phone or by email. A volunteer will try to contact you within 24 hours.
||Send email through the website.
CaringBridge is a nonprofit organization that offers free, easy-to-create web sites to connect family and friends during a health crisis. This site can help ease the burden of keeping loved ones updated. It provides a way for them to send their support and encouragement. Step-by-step instructions are provided for creating and updating the site you create.
National Cancer Institute (NCI) — National Institutes of Health
||The LiveHelp online chat service is available Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
||Send an email through the website.
||Information specialists answer calls Monday–Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
The National Cancer Institute's website provides accurate information about the challenges cancer can bring. You can search for information by cancer type or topic. You can find information about treatment and financial and insurance matters. You can also learn how treatments in development work and search for a clinical trial in your area. This site also has a good dictionary of cancer terms, drug information and other publications. Cancer information specialists can answer your questions about cancer and help you with quitting smoking. They can also help you with using the website and can tell you about NCI’s printed and electronic materials. The knowledgeable and caring specialists have access to comprehensive, accurate information on a range of cancer topics, including the most recent advances in cancer treatment. The service is confidential, and information specialists spend as much time as needed for thorough and personalized responses.
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