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  • Looking after yourself after treatment for cancer of unknown primary


    Cancer can cause physical and emotional strain. It’s important to try to look after your well-being as much as possible.


    Eating healthy food can help you cope with treatment and side effects. A dietitian can help you manage special dietary needs or eating problems, and choose the best foods for your situation.

    For more information about nutrition, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or you can download the booklet Nutrition and Cancer.

    Staying active

    Physical activity may help to reduce tiredness, improve circulation and elevate mood. The amount and type of exercise you do depends on what you are used to, how you feel, and your doctor’s advice.

    For more information about exercise, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or you can download the booklet Exercise for people living with cancer.

    Complementary therapies

    These therapies are used with conventional medical treatments. You may have therapies such as massage, relaxation and acupuncture to increase your sense of control, decrease stress and anxiety, and improve your mood. Let your doctor know about any therapies you are using or thinking about trying as some may not be safe or evidence based.

    Alternative therapies are used instead of conventional medical treatments. These therapies, such as coffee enemas and magnet therapy, can be harmful.

    For more information about complementary therapies, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or you can download the booklet Understanding Complementary Therapies.

    Relationship with others

    Having cancer can affect your relationships with family, friends and colleagues. This may be because cancer is stressful, tiring and upsetting, or as a result of more positive changes to your values, priorities or outlook on life.

    Give yourself time to adjust to what’s happening and do the same for others. People may deal with the cancer in different ways, for example by being overly positive, playing down fears or keeping a distance. It may be helpful to discuss your feelings with each other.

    Sexuality, intimacy and cancer

    Cancer can affect your sexuality in physical and emotional ways. The impact of these changes depends on many factors such as treatment and side effects, your self-confidence, and if you have a partner. Although sexual intercourse may not always be possible, closeness and sharing can still be part of your relationship.

    If you are able to have sex you may be advised to use certain types of contraception to protect your partner or avoid pregnancy, for a certain period of time. Your doctor will talk to you about the precautions to take. They will also tell you if treatment will affect your fertility permanently or temporarily. If having children is important to you, talk to your doctor before starting treatment.

    For more information on sexuality, intimacy and fertility, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or download the booklets Sexuality, Intimacy and CancerFertility and Cancer and Emotions and Cancer.

    Seeking support

    Living with a CUP diagnosis

    When you are first diagnosed with secondary cancer, and throughout the different stages of treatment, you may experience a range of emotions, such as fear, sadness, anxiety, depression, anger and frustration.

    You may find it hard to believe that the primary cancer can’t be located. The ‘unknown’ aspect of the disease can make people feel scared and lonely, as well as frustrated when they are looking for information and support.

    It may help to talk about your feelings. Your partner, family members and friends can be a good source of support, or you might prefer to talk to:

    • members of your treatment team
    • a counsellor, social worker or psychologist
    • your religious or spiritual adviser
    • a support group
    • Cancer Council 13 11 20.

    Dealing with feelings of sadness

    If you have continued feelings of sadness, have trouble getting up in the morning or have lost motivation to do things that previously gave you pleasure, you may be experiencing depression. This is quite common among people who have had cancer.

    Talk to your GP as counselling or medicationeven for a short timemay help. Some people are able to get a Medicare rebate for sessions with a psychologist. Ask your doctor if you are eligible. Cancer Council SA has a free counselling service which offers you an opportunity to discuss your cancer experience and its impact on your life. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for more information.

    The organisation beyondblue has information about coping with depression and anxiety. Go to beyondblue or call 1300 224 636 to order a fact sheet.

    Practical and financial help

    There are many services that can help deal with practical or financial problems caused by the cancer. Benefits, pensions and programs can help pay for prescription medicines, transport costs or utility bills. Home care services, aids and appliances can also be arranged to help make life easier.

    Ask the hospital social worker which services are available in your local area and if you are eligible to receive them.

    If you need legal or financial advice, you should talk to a qualified professional about your situation. Cancer Council SA offers free legal and financial services for people who can’t afford to paycall 13 11 20 to ask if you are eligible.

    Talk to someone who's been there 

    Coming into contact with other people who have had similar experiences to you can be beneficial. You may feel supported and relieved to know that others understand what you are going through and that you are not alone. People often feel they can speak openly and share tips with others who have gone through a similar experience.

    Many people feel isolated after a diagnosis of CUP, so finding a support group can be especially worthwhile.

    In a support setting, you may find that you are comfortable talking about your diagnosis and treatment, relationships with friends and family, and hopes and fears for the future. Some people say they can be even more open and honest because they aren’t trying to protect their loved ones.

    Types of support

    There are many ways to connect with others for mutual support and to share information.

    These include:

    • face-to-face support groupsoften held in community centres or hospitals
    • telephone support groupsfacilitated by trained counsellors
    • peer support programsmatch you with someone who has had a similar cancer experience, e.g. Cancer Connect
    • online forumssuch as cancerconnections.com.au.

    Talk to your nurse, social worker or Cancer Council 13 11 20 about what is available.

    Living with advanced cancer

    Being told that you have advanced cancer may bring up different emotions and reactions. You may not know what to say or think, or you may feel sadness, anger or disbelief. You might think:

    • why me?
    • it’s not fair.
    • how long do I have left?
    • I am not ready to die. I have so many things I still want to do and achieve.
    • how can I stop this happening?
    • I don’t want to live anymore. What’s the point? I want it to be over now.

    Some days will be easier than others. There will be days when you feel tired and unsure, while other days you will have more energy and feel more optimistic.

    Some people find it important to stay hopeful during times of sadness or uncertainty. This may help you feel more able to deal with the situation. Your hopes may change over timeyou may hope for a cure, to be around for a special event, or that your symptoms will be well controlled.

    You might find it helpful to talk to a palliative care team about what you are going through. For example, your doctors and nurses can help you cope with symptoms and side effects. You may want to talk to a social worker, counsellor or pastoral care worker about your feelings.

    For more information, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or you can download the booklets Living with advanced cancer and Understanding palliative care.

    This website page was last reviewed and updated February 2018.

    Information reviewed by: A/Prof Linda Mileshkin, Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Sarwan Bishnoi, Medical Oncologist, Adelaide Cancer Centre, SA; Dave Clark, Consumer; Dr Jan Maree Davis, Area Director, Palliative Care Service, Calvary Health Care and St George Hospital, NSW; Linda Tompsitt, Cancer Nurse 13 11 20, Cancer Council WA; Catherine Trevaskis, Gastrointestinal Cancer Specialist Nurse, The Canberra Hospital, ACT

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