Being stoic during cancer – A strategy to help

It’s official, ‘stoicism’ is a trend(!) and it’s one that can help you as a strategy for dealing with cancer, writes Cancer Therapist Clare Reed from CBT For Cancer.

Photo by Heather Schwartz on Unsplash

I was listening to an interesting podcast on the BBC radio the other day about the re-surging trend in ‘stoicism’ and I can see why it is trending. It is a practical way to go about life and I can certainly see how it will be useful if you are going through cancer.

How being stoic helps with cancer

It’s a funny thing this trend for being stoic, funny for me anyway, because it means, as a ‘stoic’, I am now on trend! At last I am ahead of the curve! Not bad for 43! I think my decade as a CBT practitioner has definitely made me into a nurtured stoic, rather than it being a conscious decision though, and I can’t say this came naturally. I have had to practice being stoic daily.

What is stoicism?

Definition: The endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint. (Wikipedia)

Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy founded in the 3rd century BC and has been adopted by many philosophers and even a Roman emperor – Marcus Aurelius. Here are some examples of how stoics think:

Being stoic means making the best of life and of bad situations. It is a way of dealing with negative thoughts, particularly when fortune isn’t shining on you. Like being diagnosed with cancer. But being stoic gets you to think more neutrally rather than dwelling on negativity.

Stoics are prepared to be resilient. Preparing practically for the worst and managing a situation, rather than burying your head in the sand and wishing it would all just go away.

Stoics don’t try to control things they have no control over. If they are waiting for test results, that they can’t control the outcome to, you won’t find them losing sleep or praying and hoping things will go their way. Instead they use a ‘what will be, will be’ approach.

Stoics monitor their judgements to ensure they don’t settle for negative or biased judgements of a situation. Instead of thinking cancer is the worst possible thing in the world and how dreadful it is, they will embrace what the universe has given them and not fight against it. Neither will they make it out to be overly positive.  Instead they will look at the situation neutrally and without emotion.

Stoics see problem solving as part of life’s plan and not as a headache. If you have a problem, stop worrying about it and set about fixing it.

Here are four stoic exercises to practice

1. Recognise when you are applying negative judgements and see if you can find less negative perspectives instead. Aim for factual and neutral perspectives instead of emotional ones and eliminate negative or catastrophic language.

2. Make sure your house is in order. If you are in the midst of cancer, is your ‘will’ up to date, do you know where all your important documents are and can you share passwords with a trusted loved one to help administrate your life – if you ever need this. Yes, I know this sounds particularly morbid,  but it is a stoic approach and you will feel like a weight is lifted off your shoulders if you have this organised – even if you have a full recovery, at least it’s a good ‘to-do’ to have ticked.

3. Are you seeking to control a situation that is out of your control, if so – let go! You can write out a list of things you are in control of and things you aren’t in control of in a particular situation and then make sure you don’t get emotionally stressed by those things listed as out of your control. Remember, what will be will be.

4. Be good to yourself and others. Love yourself and love your body, don’t treat it as an enemy. Let those you love know how much they mean to you too.

If you are struggling to cope mentally with cancer, Clare is available to help. You can contact her to arrange a free 20 minute call to see if CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) may be able to help you. Contact Clare through her website,

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