Cancer counseling is supportive counseling for a normal life crisis.  Cancer is a normal life crisis.  It is not emotional pathology.  It’s just that your life, thus far, has had little or no prior experience to prepare you to be able to deal with cancer.  No one expects you to know how to get through cancer whole, healthy, sane, in your right mind, fully human, fully alive and emerge as a whole, integrated human being.  It is a normal time of crisis, in that, anyone facing the same set of circumstances would have similar fears, feelings, and issues.  Consequently, everyone follows a similar path.  What individualizes the journey is the rank order and the intensity of how these fears, feelings, and issues are experienced.  

Cancer counseling can help you regain your balance when the word cancer blindsides you and saws all the props out from under you leaving you feeling very vulnerable and scared as you suddenly confront life being fragile and having no guarantees.  Cancer counseling can assist you in discovering what works and what doesn’t in getting through this journey.  Often old coping behaviors don’t work in dealing with the issues, fears, and feelings that arise, but supportive counseling can introduce you to new coping behaviors that are healthier and will make this journey a lot easier.  In addition, cancer counseling helps you to anticipate and overcome challenges you face as you make this journey.  Most importantly, it teaches you how to be healthy emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and mentally; how to live in the present; and how to be about living with cancer versus dying with cancer.  Cure may not always be possible, but healing is.  Cancer counseling promotes healing at every point along the cancer journey.


  1. Mobilize a healthy support system. No one gets through this journey alone and emerges whole and healthy. It takes a whole balcony of people who will lock arms and walk this journey with you. Choose only people who are life-giving and emotionally safe and can handle the uncensored version of your story to be part of your balcony. Set boundaries with folks who drain your energy and are life-sucking.
  2. Resist the tendency to be strong. Being strong takes too much energy to maintain and breaks trust in relationships as family and friends’ question if you are protecting them from how you really feel and vice versa. The goal is to be real. That takes a lot more courage. Remember there is nothing you and your support system can’t face together.
  3. Ask for what you need. Friends want direction in what would be meaningful to you in helping to make your load lighter. They feel chosen and trusted when you ask specifically for what you need. Remember there is no such thing as dependency in healthy friendships. Both are givers and both are receivers at the same time.
  4. No one is positive all the time. That takes too much energy, and besides, it’s not real.
  5. Lean into your fears, feelings, and issues in order to identify what is pushing your buttons and what is the underlying fear or issue. Then break the issue into manageable pieces looking to see where you have control and where you don’t. Take control where you have decision-making power and options and release control where you don’t have any, and probably never had any.
  6. Make cancer work for you. Don’t let it take everything away from you. Allow your priorities to change. Focus on what really matters, is essential, is meaningful in your life and let go of what doesn’t matter a hill of beans. This will greatly improve your quality of life.
  7. Life has 2 bookends. It always has. Life is fragile; we just don’t live that way. Where you have control again is you get to choose the volumes you put between those bookends. Choose the volumes that really matter, that are essential and meaningful, and let go of things that are just “crapola,” and take up too much time and energy.
  8. The decisions you make along the cancer journey are not about what’s right and wrong or good or bad, but rather about what’s meaningful and what’s not to you and your family. Pay attention to what allows your heart to breathe and is life-giving versus life-sucking.
  9. Don’t “should” on yourself. Treat yourself as you would your best friend with kindness and compassion. Listen to your heart and not the “shoulds” and “oughts of your head.
  10. Depression usually follows cancer treatment. That’s because it takes physical energy to hold up your emotions and your spirit. Once the fatigue from treatment sets in you no longer have the energy to support your emotions and your spirit. This doesn’t mean you’re not coping. It simply means you don’t have the energy to cope; you don’t have the energy to carry the caring. Antidepressants can help increase your energy and improve the quality of your sleep. They also help decrease irritability by putting the filter back in place, so you don’t react to everything that shows up on your radar. Having that filter in place allows you the split-second you need to decide what you want to jump into with both feet and what you can let pass with a “whatever” or “oh well.”
  11. Choose to be about living with cancer and not about dying with cancer. Otherwise, you can spend the rest of your life dying of cancer and miss out on life and relationships. Stay in the present and live now. Don’t miss today and the power and preciousness it holds.

What does a CANCER COUNSELOR do?

These specialists focus on the effects of cancer on patients and their loved ones. Cancer counselors help you see that your reactions are normal, and they can help you make sense of the situation. They can also be able to notice if you have normal sadness or have major depression that may need medication. They can help patients validate their feelings of survival and navigate a new normal since their life has changed. Counselors can implement a number of useful strategies and approaches to help you cope.



Dr. Jan Pettigrew is an oncology and grief crisis counselor who provides supportive counseling for cancer patients and their families, as well as, bereavement counseling for those who have experienced the death of a loved one. Through individual and family counseling sessions, seminars, and retreats she teaches patients and their families how to be healthy emotionally, spiritually, relationally and mentally as they confront life and death issues. Dr. Pettigrew began her practice in 1979 as a clinical nurse specialist at Morton Cancer and Research Hospital in Dallas, Texas before going into private practice in 1986, first in Dallas and then in 1993 moving her practice to Little Rock. In Dallas, she helped develop a bereavement support group called Life After Loss which won a national award from the American Cancer Society and was adopted as an ongoing program, they offer to help family and friends dealing with the death of a loved one. In Little Rock she has served as a consultant for CARTI Cancer Center in providing counseling for patients and families going through cancer treatment.

Dr. Pettigrew received her Ph.D. in Nursing from Texas Woman’s University where she focused her studies upon the impact of the nurse’s presence with persons experiencing suffering. She completed undergraduate and graduate nursing studies at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Nursing. Dr. Pettigrew also did postgraduate study in counseling at Dallas Theological Seminary where she explored the interface of health care and spiritual care. She describes her role as an awesome privilege to be invited to come alongside and support people through very difficult times in their lives and then to witness transformation take place as they experience healing.

IF you have lost a loved one, Dr. Pettigrew also does grief counseling. Click on the GRIEF, LOSS AND LEGACY tab for more information.

Dr. Pettigrew is located in Little Rock Arkansas, but she will do counseling sessions via phone. To connect with Dr. Pettigrew call (501) 663-7211.