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Mental health and cancer: "Things that have helped me"

21 May 2020

Lisa Robson cropped

Taking care of her mental health became essential to Lisa following a diagnosis of stage 3 ovarian cancer. She shared some of the things that helped her during treatment and recurrence for Mental Health Awareness Week, and we take a look at some of the charities that offer support. 

"It's like putting on your oxygen mask"

I’m very keen to show that you can live a positive and full life with recurrent ovarian cancer, despite what the limitations of pain and treatment may bring. Good mental health has played a vital role in helping me cope with my diagnosis. I look after my mental health before anything else, for me it’s like putting on your oxygen mask before helping others - you won’t look after your physical need if your mental health is poor.

Things that have helped me 

  1. PLANNING. Don’t go too far ahead of where you are now, initially a few weeks has now stretched to a few months for me but that’s as far as it goes. Chronic fatigue was an unexpected side-effect from chemotherapy. It’s taken me a while to understand that every day doesn’t have to, and can’t, be productive. Now, I try and plan my week with down days so that I spread my energy out and don’t just crash.
  2. DR GOOGLE. It’s almost impossible to not do this. The stats for ovarian cancer are bloody grim, I know every one off by heart. Has it helped? NOOOO…you don’t need that stuff running around your head.
  3. SOCIAL MEDIA. Choose this wisely. I found Facebook very hard, there were too many celebrations of key life events that I would likely not get to share with my lovely husband or 10 year old son. I left my account hanging and after four years have just started to use it again, toe in the water approach.

  4. DON’T OVERTHINK IT. Trying to find the ‘why’ is a waste of precious energy and time. The blame game is rife within the cancer community and those trying to profit from it. Instead, think about what you can do now to improve your approach to life from this point forward. 

  5. COMPARISONS. I’ve learnt that everyone experiences this disease differently, even women who on paper have the same diagnosis can have completely different reactions and outcomes to treatment, so plough your own path. 

  6. TALK ABOUT IT. I couldn’t talk about my fears to my family they were upset enough, this for me was very isolating. Talking to other women who have ovarian cancer on forums and Instagram has given me that outlet.  

For the first two years I didn’t talk much about my diagnosis. I wanted to be seen and feel ‘normal’ and not have cancer be my story. I think I also didn’t like the reminder of my sell by date (see 2 above)! This changed at my first recurrence. When I knew I was in it for the long haul I gave myself permission to talk about stuff like the word incurable which helped define what that means for me. I have become much more open about my diagnosis, I share my story to anyone who will listen in the hope of raising awareness.  

Click here to read the rest of Lisa's story. 

Where to find more support 

Living with a cancer diagnosis can be difficult emotionally, whether you’re a patient, friend or family member. There are a number of support charities who are there to provide reassurance, expert help, or just somebody to talk to. 

Macmillan Cancer Support provides a range of resources and information about support in your area. The Macmillan Support Line offers confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. You can call the support line on 0808 808 0000 7 days a week, 8am-8pm. Macmillan’s cancer information advisors offer a listening ear and are ready to talk about whatever matters to you. 

Ovacome is a national support charity which provides information and emotional support for everyone affected by ovarian cancer. This includes women who have either been diagnosed with the disease or think that they might be at risk, as well as their friends and family and healthcare professionals. Ovacome provides a range of support services, including:

  • The Ovacome Support Service: 0800 008 7054 and 07503 682 311. The phone line is available Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm (until 8pm on Tuesdays)
  • Email support: support@ovacome.org.uk
  • Face to face support groups. For more information click here

They also provide a number of useful guides, including:

  • 'Coping with anxiety' - read the guide here
  • 'Talking to your family and friends' - read the guide here

Maggie’s provides free cancer support and information in centres across the UK and online. Their Support Specialists and Psychologists are on hand to help if you or someone you care about has cancer. You can get in touch by calling 0300 123 1801 or email enquiries@maggies.org.uk. 

Mind is a mental health charity that provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. Click here to read about the support they offer, and you can find their helplines here

The Mental Health Foundation is a UK charity to help protect and sustain everyone’s mental health. They provide a range of useful content - from podcasts and videos, to inspiring stories and information about getting help if you’re struggling - to help you learn more and look after your mental health.