When Cancer Becomes Your Identity: A Meditation

Physical changes caused by cancer can trigger a deep sense of grief. This mindfulness practice for cancer patients explores changes in self-image and identity during the cancer experience.

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Dealing with cancer involves more than worry and stress about the illness itself, the treatments, and the prognosis for the future. The very real and troubling physical symptoms of disease and side effects of treatment also cause great upset and suffering. Such disturbances range from the most obvious outward marker of cancer for many patients—hair loss—to inner changes, such as an altered self-image and problems with energy levels, including profound fatigue and difficulty sleeping that can turn into a vicious circle of sleepless nights, tired days, daytime napping, and more sleepless nights.

Cancer patients often also encounter many types of pain, from painful procedures like biopsies, blood draws, chemotherapy administration, and radiation therapy to post-surgical pain and lingering aches and pains from the illness itself. There are mindfulness practices that specifically apply to all of these problems, and can help reduce your stress and improve your overall quality of life. Being in distress initiates excitatory and inflammatory responses that can exacerbate many side effects, but good evidence shows that relaxation alone can reduce the intensity of such side effects.

Hair Loss and Changes in Self-Image and Identity

Often one of the most…