How to Handle the Anxiety of an Endometrial Cancer Diagnosis

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It’s normal to feel anxious when you get a diagnosis of endometrial cancer (cancer in the lining of the uterus). The good news is that many women who were once in your situation ultimately found ways to get through their jumble of worries. (About 62,000 Americans get diagnosed with endometrial cancer each year).

Some of these women share their most effective strategies here, along with tips and tools for dealing with follow-up testing for Lynch syndrome (an inherited cancer disorder that can appear as endometrial cancer), and microsatellite instability (MSI) of the endometrial tumor. A positive result for either further increases the risk for getting additional types of cancer over time.

Ultimately, finding your own method for handling this difficult news can make you feel less anxious over time, and according to the National Cancer Institute can also serve as an antidote to the depression and anxiety that having cancer can cause.

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Keep away from people who don’t “get it”

Support from friends, family, and others is important, says Andrea Bradford, PhD, an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine Medical Center in Houston. But there can be a dark side. Sometimes people say things that make you feel bad, like “you’ll be fine in a year.” Of course, the reality is that no one knows if that’s true — and it can make what you’re going through seem small and unimportant. Or make it seem as if you’re overdramatizing things. Maybe even worse: hearing about people with cancer who didn’t do well.

So think through who you’re spending time with, says Dr. Bradford. “It’s okay to build a buffer, to get support only from those people who are really listening, validating your experience, and helping you cope.” Find your listeners and your champions—and keep them close.

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Try a support group. It can actually help – a lot!

Online or in person, a support group can be a safe place for unloading worries, venting, and picking up ideas and techniques for getting what you need from your doctors and your friends and family to feel less anxious. “I have found support groups to be extremely helpful,” says Wendy Ericson, who was diagnosed with stage IVb endometrial cancer in 2012, and whose cancer has come back. “Participants are going through the same kinds of treatment and have similar side effects,” she says.

There’s also something to be said for hearing from people who are further along in treatment, adds Dr. Bradford, and who have gotten through the extra-hard parts of treatment and been OK.

To find a support group, ask your doctor or social worker for ideas, or connect with a local cancer society. Online or in-person is a personal choice. Ericson chose Cancer Care’s online group for gynecological cancer patients.


Sweat away some worries

Power through a jog or a spinning class, and you’ll likely feel better — right? The good feeling can be psychological, too, so don’t forget to give it a try when anxiety is intense. Ericson says she’s really glad she joined a physical exercise program for cancer patients sponsored by LiveStrong at her local YMCA. “It was really helpful, not only because of the physical benefits, but because you meet other people going through the same experience.”

And in fact, you don’t have to sweat like a madwoman to feel steadier and less consumed with worries. Ericson says restorative yoga classes hardly make her pant hard, but they often make her feel better in the same way that exercise can. “For an hour, you can completely relax and forget about things,” she says.

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Manage some of your fears by managing your weight — if that’s an issue

More than half of all cases of endometrial cancer are associated with excess weight, says Dr. Bradford. This means that losing extra pounds — and keeping them off — can be a way to take back some control over what happens next. Simply put, “Losing weight is a demonstrated way to help reduce the risk of endometrial cancer,” Bradford says. If you’re ready to get serious about shedding pounds, but not actually sure how to do it, ask your doctor for the name of a registered dietitian who can help you put together a plan likely to work for you.

Get real about expectations you have for yourself

Lots of women feel fatigued and generally wiped out after being treated for endometrial cancer, says Bradford. If you try to get things done at the same speed that you did before the diagnosis – whether it’s cleaning the kitchen or doing the bills or driving the kids to baseball practice – you just might just end up more stressed and anxious.

“Even if your cancer is gone, you might still have months ahead where you don’t feel yourself,” she says. “Give yourself six months to a year after treatment to start to feel more like your old self—and then ramp up slowly.” Trying to do everything that you did pre-cancer at the same speed and in the same way is just a recipe for the jitters that you don’t need.

Put sleep high on your priority list

In a cruel twist, while feeling rested can help you cope with the stress of a cancer diagnosis, as much as 60 percent of people with cancer spend much of the night tossing and turning. According to the National Cancer Institute, too little sleep in people with cancer, whether from treatment of because of other reasons, can:

  • increase the risk of infection
  • lessen overall quality of life
  • jack up the risk for depression and anxiety
  • heighten the likelihood experiencing other cancer symptoms.

Thankfully, you can get treated for insomnia with cancer. Dr. Buford says research points to the staying power of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) over medications for controlling insomnia in people with cancer.


Invite a friend along

You go to the oncologist... and your stress level is sky-high. There’s a lot of information you’re supposed to understand and remember, particularly if you have MSI or Lynch syndrome. Give yourself a break and don’t soldier on alone. Bring a note taker, a friend distracter, a person who can even make you laugh. Having an advocate can make a big difference in how anxious you feel, because you’re not trying to do everything on your own.

“My cousin is an ob/gyn and came to my doctor appointments with me,” explains Sharon Dilworth of Pittsburgh, who was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in August 2018. She was grateful to have someone with knowledge about her condition go to visits with her. The American Cancer Society points out that most cancer centers also offer patient navigators who can also listen, take notes and ask questions for you, if you want. You can call 1-800-227-2345 to see if there’s a Patient Navigator Program near you; the doctor’s office might also have ideas for you.

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Convert stress energy into giving-back-energy

Taking the focus off yourself can destress and lighten you up in ways that might surprise you — though you’ll probably just have to try it for yourself and see how it feels. It’s not for everyone.

For Ericson, being the go-to source of information and support for newly diagnosed cancer helps her feel better. “I like being actively engaged and speaking up for education, awareness and fundraising for the cause,” she says. “It’s helped me find something good out of something bad.” She also participates in fundraising for the Foundation for Women’s Cancer; her team was country’s top fundraiser the past two years.


Don’t get sidetracked by sketchy info

Information is power. But “Google is not your friend,” says Ericson. “There’s a lot of really bad, really scary information online.” Instead, get your information from reliable sources, such as the National Cancer Institute, the Foundation for Women’s Cancer, or other sites that end in “.gov.”

And skip the stats that are about everyone under the sun. Ericson says “you don’t need to know prognosis and survival rates to survive yourself. You need to know things like how chemotherapy or surgery is going to affect you!”


If sexual health problems are adding to your stress levels, make a move

Having endometrial cancer can mess with your sexual health in a lot of ways. Dr. Bradford says her patients talk about everything from changes in their mood to being extra tired and fatigued, and hit hard by sudden shifts in hormone levels. Push back if this happens, and talk to your oncologist. You can also ask for a referral to a sexual health specialist who might be able to help. Also worth a try, says Ericson: the Foundation for Women’s Cancer survivor courses, which are free and includes speakers who talk about sexual health issues after cancer in a comfortable and informative way.