Cancer professionals as coaches: how to help your patients develop a strong mindset

In recent weeks, a number of people have asked me what I think about mindset and cancer, and this has got me thinking about the impact mindset may have on a patient’s prognosis.

I’m not much of a Twitter-er, to be very honest with you. I think it’s a confusing social media platform (IMHO!) and I just find it all a bit overwhelming. But now and again, I receive a notification that someone who I may have previously interacted with has tweeted something.

Sometimes I’m drawn in to take a closer look, and on one occasion very recently this was the case.

Somebody living with terminal cancer had read an article in which the author’s turn of phrase really upset her. The author of the article had written something about having “beautifully navigated” cancer and survived.

The author of the Tweet, however, had felt that the phrase inferred that if you were terminal, you somehow hadn’t “beautifully navigated” your cancer experience. Within minutes, many of her followers had joined in on this discussion about how insensitive the author had been, how treatment is anything BUT beautiful, and questioned what it meant to “beautifully navigate” it anyway.


I chose to stay well out of it! I could see both points of view, and personally didn’t feel that the article author had any malintentions. I think she just wanted to use a more decorative phrase to illustrate her point. However, I could also totally relate to the author of the Tweet: apart from anything else, the emotional trauma of cancer can leave a person more sensitive to (or less tolerant of) careless words and phrases, and understandably so!

However, one thing really stood out to me….

The vast differences in mindset across the hundreds of different comments on the post. Positive...negative...warrior...victim...hopeful...powerless...

Is there any one ‘right’ mindset to have when living through cancer?

I don’t believe so, not personally anyway. We’re all unique and we all handle things differently from each other.

But some mindsets are more helpful and more empowering than others, for sure.

So, as a cancer professional, what can you do to help your patients or clients develop a strong and healthy mindset to help them navigate their cancer experience (beautifully or not!)?

Of course, this is a much bigger topic than a single blog post could possibly cover, but let’s outline some of the key steps to starting the process.

#1: Finding clarity

The best (and I believe, only) place to start with any coaching conversation is to seek clarity. What’s the current state of play? What mindset does your patient or client exhibit? What kind of language do they use to describe their feelings? What do they currently believe to be true about their diagnosis/prognosis?

Empower your patients or clients to identify for themselves any telltale signs they might be slipping into the quicksands of negative thinking. As they notice the dark cloud descending upon them, encourage them to take note of the kinds of thoughts and internal dialogue their mind throws up and ask themselves, “Why am I thinking this particular thought? What’s behind this?”.

As they drill down deeper, beneath the surface level why into the “subsoil”, they’ll uncover the truth behind their negative mindset and can rebuild from there on a solid foundation of liberating truths.

If you’d like a free workbook to help your patients or clients reframe their mindset, you can download The 7 Days of Journaling Through Cancer Into Clarity and Calm guide.  

#2: Historical impact

Having gained clarity on how your patient or client is currently viewing their diagnosis, a powerful next step is to help them reflect on how their mindset has impacted them in the past. By helping them to understand what has happened in the past, and how this has affected their thinking, their feelings and their emotions, you can equip them to move forwards and not let it hold them back.

Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Dale T. Miller call this “the power of backward thinking”, but the human mind often subconsciously represses painful memories and emotions to protect the ego-self.

However, we can empower others to gain an understanding of how their past is impacting their present by following a simple four-step system, that I’ve previously written about here.

Let me briefly summarize the key steps here:

  1. State how you felt at the time
  2. Acknowledge what happened
  3. Learn from the experience
  4. Look for a new perspective

State how you felt at the time

Even though it can be painful and bring up all sorts of emotional turmoil within the memories, to be able to acknowledge what happened, we need to first remember it. After all, an experience isn’t complete until it’s remembered.

Acknowledge what happened

The next step is to acknowledge what we’ve been through. We don’t need to judge ourselves, or the experience, but rather just hold it in mind with a level of neutrality. If we don’t address what’s happened in the past, the danger is we carry on living inside the unhelpful stories that we’ve told ourselves. This process can in fact help the brain to process the trauma, freeing the emotions so that they can be released, rather than repressed.

Learn from the experience

In the introduction to her book, “The Cancer Whisperer”, Sophie Sabbage says, “...[This book] is for the cancer patient who has a hunch that there is something for them to learn, gain or even be transformed by” (p9).

It is my personal belief that we can learn something from every experience in our lives. Please note that I’m NOT saying “everything happens for a reason” or “people get cancer to teach them something”, but rather, no matter what our experience, we can glean some important lessons that we can build upon for the future.

This is where journaling really comes into its own. Encourage your patients or clients to keep a journal where they write down their thoughts and feelings each day; where they can reflect on what they’ve been through; and where they can begin to unpick the threads of what’s happened and make sense of it.

Ask them, “what ONE thing have you learned about yourself through this experience?”

Look for a new perspective

We have so much inherent power to change our situation simply by changing the way in which we view it and think about it.

Ask your patients or clients, “When you shift your perspective about your diagnosis, what comes up for you?” and then encourage them to write it down and reflect on it. What will they do differently as a result?

If you’d like a free workbook to help your patients or clients understand the impact their mindset has had in the past, you can download the free guide on Four Steps to Completing the Past here.


#3: Current effects

So now we have an understanding of our patient’s current mindset and the impact this may have had on them in the past, it’s time to turn our attention to how this is affecting them right now.

Start by asking them to identify the emotions they’re feeling in the present moment. It may be helpful for them to write this down.

The next step is to assist them in letting go of the emotions, including letting go of resisting feeling it in the first place, as well as letting go of any resistance to positive emotions. This can be a little abstract and difficult to comprehend until you’re “in the moment”, but trust me - it works!

If they’re struggling to do this, it may be helpful to ask them to identify the exact opposite emotion from the negative one they’re feeling. So for example, if the overriding emotions they’re feeling are guilt and shame, then the opposite could be pride. If they’re having difficulty letting go of the guilt and shame, perhaps ask them to try letting go of resistance to pride.

Observe the shift in emotional state that occurs, and invite your patient or client to return to the feeling itself - how does it feel now?

If you’d like a free workbook to help your patients or clients in letting go of their emotions and releasing past hurts, you can download the free guide on Three Steps to Letting Go of Past Hurts here.


#4: Future decisions

I’ve also written previously about the “watershed” moment that many people who have lived through the cancer experience describe: the moment that draws an imaginary line between their life before cancer and life after cancer.

And with that dawning of a “new life” often comes a renewed search for purpose and meaning. So many people I’ve spoken to have given up their day job and decided to pursue something entirely different - something more personally fulfilling.

Life is short and life is precious, and we ALL have a deeply ingrained desire to leave a lasting legacy in this world once we’re gone.

So what if you could help your patients or clients to discover their renewed sense of purpose in life?

This is something I’m exploring in more depth currently, and as a coach, I find it incredibly rewarding to watch someone flourish before my very eyes as we slowly peel back the layers and envision a future for them that really makes their heart sing.

Fundamentally, I believe our purpose in life all comes down to our core values. As people, we change and evolve over time, but largely our core values remain unchanged.

If you want to explore this with your patients and clients some more, I’ve also got a free guide for you to help them with discerning “It”, which you can download here.

You can also download all four guides at once here

Your role as a coach

No matter what role you play in helping those living through cancer, you are a coach. You may not think of yourself as a coach, but I believe you are because the work you do involves helping them to look within themselves and see what they can do differently to bring about results.

But I also understand how frustrating it can be when you KNOW that what you have to offer can help your patients or clients, but for whatever reason, it feels like it’s falling on deaf ears and nothing seems to change.

I specialise in helping people like you to excel in the services you provide to your patients and clients by breaking through those barriers and blocks that patients understandably have.

Want to see this in action? Why not book in a completely free, no obligation discovery call and see how this approach can help YOU to engage your patients and clients more rapidly.


Coming up...

In the next blog post, I have another very special interview to share with you. The lovely Talaya Dendy, cancer coach, will be sharing her inspiring story of how she has used her experience as a cancer patient to fuel her passion to help others navigate through their own cancer experience, with a particular emphasis on the mindset of a cancer warrior.

Know someone who’d benefit from this post? Why not share it? 


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Essential Cancer Education exists to make a difference in the lives of those living through the cancer experience indirectly by assisting cancer professionals in engaging their patients and clients with lasting, positive lifestyle changes to reduce secondary cancer risk.

I believe that through education and increasing public awareness of the impact of our dietary and lifestyle habits on cancer risk, we ALL have the power to reduce cancer incidence. Nearly half of all cancers can be prevented by making positive diet and lifestyle changes. Nearly half!

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