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Showing Compassion For Ourselves As Cancer Patients

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Compassion - we have it for others, but do we show enough compassion for ourselves? As cancer patients, we often do not. We hold ourselves to high expectations and do not give ourselves enough grace. In this post, I am exploring the importance of showing more compassion towards ourselves, especially while going through cancer treatment.

Showing More Self-Compassion As Cancer Patients

Everyone would probably agree that compassion is an important quality to have. We are so good at extending compassion for others who need it, but do we show enough compassion for ourselves? For many of us, the answer to that question is no. Especially when we are facing adversity in our lives, such as going through cancer treatment.

Both in my own experience, as well as when working with clients, I have found that often when we are going through treatment, our expectations of ourselves are unrealistic. This could range from thinking we can keep working through treatment or trying to keep up the pace that we had prior to cancer. Ultimately though, we really need to give ourselves more compassion while dealing with cancer!

Learning To Give Myself Compassion During Treatment

As an exercise person, when I was diagnosed with cancer I had the “goal” of not slowing down on my exercise during my treatment. After all, I had read about people running marathons while on chemo! Then I ended up in the hospital due to nutritional complications, and couldn’t meet my own expectations for myself and my exercise. It took a lot of work to show myself the same compassion that I would have easily shown to others. So now, I encourage clients and those around me not to hold oneself to such high standards, and to practice more self-compassion. Give yourself some grace, especially during this time!

a granite bench in a park with the word compassion engraved on the side

Scientific Studies On Self-Compassion For Cancer Patients

Interestingly, there is actually a clinical study on this topic. The NIH published a study in 2019 which examined how a lack of self-compassion can actually lead to higher levels of depression, anxiety, and fatigue for cancer patients.1 The study was performed on cancer patients who were studied over a period of time - from diagnosis through the end of treatment. They were scored on levels of positive self-compassion and negative self-compassion given. The conclusion describes that cancer patients who showed themselves more self-compassion had a positive and beneficial outcome on their overall well-being. They displayed fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue. The recommendation of this trial was to study this concept further!

[If you are interested in reading more on this topic, check out this recent post on the link between cancer and mental health]

For anyone with a cancer diagnosis, whether currently undergoing treatment or in survivorship, I would encourage giving more self-compassion. There are many ways that this can be done - from lowering the expectation that you will “bounce right back,” to allowing yourself to take more breaks to rest as needed. It is very important!

And if you or a loved one needs someone to talk to, please reach out anytime.

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