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Published on September 29, 2015

Michael and Laurie Kelley

Living With Cancer: Simple Coping Strategies

When Michael Kelley of Pierre, S.D., was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma in 2013, his initial reaction was devastation. “I took it pretty hard at the diagnosis,” he said.

Today, Mike and his wife, Laurie, refuse to let the worries of cancer consume their lives. “We take it one day at a time. We’re just going to live our lives,” he said.

Mike continues to receive immunotherapy treatment for melanoma. He has received chemotherapy and immune-based cancer treatment at Avera St. Mary’s Hospital, Pierre; Avera Cancer Institute Sioux Falls; and Mayo Clinic. Immunotherapy, which has changed the landscape of melanoma treatment, is a form of cancer treatment that is designed to improve the body’s natural defenses to fight the cancer. 

Mike credits Laurie, along with an extended support system of family and friends, for helping him cope with cancer treatment. “There are ups and downs involved with the treatment. It makes the downs come back up a little bit when your friends come over just to see how you’re doing and be there for you,” he said.

A cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event; the diagnosis and subsequent treatment may seem insurmountable. Finding nurturing ways to cope with the emotions that often come alongside a cancer diagnosis and treatment can help ease the burden that cancer brings. “Knowing the Lord has a plan for me is also comforting. I pray every day for the safety and health of my family, and I ask the Lord to stay with me through this journey,” Mike said.

Coping Strategies

Here are some strategies and mantras to keep in mind during cancer treatment and recovery.

  • Take it one day at a time. “Always look forward. Don’t look back,” Mike said.
  • Keep living your life as much as you can. Try to maintain as close to a normal lifestyle as possible. “Don’t let cancer take away part of your life. Enjoy the part of your life that you have left, whatever it is. If that means visiting your kids, or going someplace you’ve always wanted to go, just do it,” Mike said.
  • Rely on your support system. Spend quality time with family and friends. “That support system is very important,” Mike said.
  • Focus on the positive. “Don’t waste precious time worrying. It doesn’t do anything for your health to worry about it,” Laurie said. “There are grandchildren to go see, and ballgame games to go to. Life goes on,” Mike added.
  • Get to know your care team. It becomes more comforting to see them when you go in for treatment, Mike said. “The care I’ve received from Avera has been almost overwhelming, in Sioux Falls and Pierre,” he said. “They have become close friends and family. You look forward to seeing those people.”
  • Learn to ask for and accept help from others. For example, you might consider keeping a list of household chores or errands that you might need help with. “And, maybe most importantly, believe in the people who love you and love the people who believe in you,” Mike added.
  • Find ways to be resilient. “Resilience is the ability to manage whatever might come your way. Just as a good support system is part of being resilient, so is treating yourself well,” said Charlene Berke, Director of Avera Cancer Institute Mitchell. Try to do small things to take care of yourself every day. Read a good book, buy yourself a small gift, watch a funny movie or listen to your favorite music.
  • Find your own coping style. Think about what you have done in the past during a difficult time. Also consider developing new coping strategies. Here are a few ideas: record your thoughts in a journal, practice relaxation techniques, find spiritual support or guidance, join a support group, exercise, or explore creative outlets.

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