The active approach to cancer

By Drum Digital
15 September 2015

No-one chooses cancer and no-one with cancer has a choice. Thankfully, you can stay positive by becoming an active participant in your treatment and recovery

A CANCER diagnosis comes with physical challenges and changes that doctors can help you understand. But in your mind things may be a lot less clear-cut.

Rediscovering your sense of self, staying in touch with your body and holding onto your self-esteem are major mental challenges on your journey with the disease.

Cancer can disrupt aspects of your life that helped identify you, such as work, relationships, leisure activities and hobbies. It can also force you to reassess your plans for the future, which can be tough.

Linda Greeff (60) knows exactly what it’s like. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 26 years ago, was treated successfully, and is now pouring her energy into helping others cope with the mental challenges of a cancer diagnosis.

Linda is the driving force behind many patient-support initiatives, including People Living With Cancer and Cancer Buddies. “I follow the Patient Active Approach,” she says. “I like to use it because it builds your internal control.”

What is the Patient Active Approach?

After his wife was treated for breast cancer in 1982, Harold Benjamin established the Wellness Community network of support centres for cancer patients in the US.

His aim was to increase patients’ odds of recovery by raising their levels of optimism and empowering them. He believed that by remaining engaged with and participating actively in society people with cancer would improve their quality of life and increase their chances of recovery.

Over the years, his Patient Active Approach programme has been mirrored around the world, including South Africa where it’s used to great effect by organisations such as People Living with Cancer.

“As the name suggests, it’s an ambitious programme that sets a range of empowering tasks for patients,” Linda says.

It encourages people living with cancer to:

  • Get to know their treatment team, become an active member of that team, and partner and communicate with them.
  • Gain power through knowledge of their illness, treatment and side effects, and how to manage those side effects.
  • Stay on schedule with treatment and set small, achievable goals.
  • Remember the spiritual and emotional dimensions of themselves and not focus solely on the physical side.
  • Build a support system by surrounding themselves with positive people and limit negative influences as much as possible.
  • Keep finding ways to have fun. It’s allowed!

Why does it work?

“There’s nothing magical or complicated about the Patient Active Approach,” Linda says. “It takes hard work and dedication. You have to choose this model every day in every area of your life, and it remains a work in progress.

“But it helps you to move away from being a victim to feeling empowered right from the start, allowing you to live with cancer through a different approach.”

Positives & negatives

A cancer diagnosis comes with feelings of sadness, fear, frustration, anger, loss of control and guilt. But Linda says there’s a positive side too.

“Many patients also report a new appreciation for their bodies, feelings of peace and gratitude, an invigorating reprioritisation, greater clarity about personal goals and a deeper understanding of the meaning of life.”

So even in the face of serious illness it’s possible to create the space to do the things your mind needs most, such as:

• Giving yourself time to adjust.

• Talking with others in similar situations.

• Laughing.

• Staying calm.

• Being as active as possible.

• Asking for help and accepting it, both from personal and professional sources.

For more on the Patient Active Approach, go to or call 0800-033-337.

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The views and experiences expressed by the individuals featured in these personal accounts are in no way intended as an endorsement of any product or service – commercial, retail or otherwise.

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