Cancer and your feelings
A diagnosis of cancer means you’ll have to deal with issues and situations that may be very frightening and challenging. When life feels uncertain, it can help to talk about your hopes and fears.
Being told I had cancer was like someone had swiped the world from beneath my feet.
Common fears and thoughts about cancer include:
Cancer can be a life-threatening disease.
Cancer can cause people to lose some independence and freedom.
Some people with cancer may lose friends who can’t face up to the illness.
People may lose important work contacts.
People may have to make big changes to their life.
People’s perspectives may change and their priorities in life may become different.
These are likely to be very real concerns for you and those close to you. It’s okay to worry about and be upset by them. And it’s okay to cry and say how you feel when things get tough. Crying is a natural response to distress. It’s not a sign of weakness. It can be a very important release, and you’ll often feel better afterwards.
Most people feel overwhelmed when they are told that they have cancer. There is no right or wrong way to feel - reactions vary and people have different emotions at different times.
You‘ll probably experience a variety of emotions, which may cause confusion and frequent mood swings. These changing emotions are part of the process many people go through when dealing with their illness.
If you’re a partner, family member or friend of someone living with cancer, you may have similar feelings and may need help with coping with them.
Below are of some of the common feelings people may have after they’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Elsewhere in this section, we discuss some of the different ways of managing these feelings.
Even if you suspected that you may have had cancer, being diagnosed is usually still a shock. You may only be able to take in a small amount of information at a time. You may have to keep asking the same questions before you understand the answers. This is a common reaction to shock.
A sense of disbelief can make it difficult for some people to talk about their illness with their family and friends. However, others may have a strong urge to speak about what they’re going through.
Loss of control and independence
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One of the hardest things to cope with can be the feeling that the cancer and its treatment have taken over your life, and that you’ve lost control. Cancer may take over certain aspects of your life, but there are often things you can do to help. These are explained further on in this booklet.
Cancer and its treatments can change a person’s role in their family or at work. You may not have the physical energy to do the normal everyday tasks that you did before, such as going to work or doing jobs around the house. Things you used to find easy may now be much more difficult. These things plus the sense of no longer having control over your life may cause you to lose some confidence in yourself.
You may feel guilty and blame yourself, or someone else, for getting cancer. This may be because we often feel better if we know why something has happened, or who or what has caused it.
In most cases, it’s impossible to know what has caused a person’s cancer, so there’s no reason for you to feel that anyone’s to blame. Cancer isn’t a punishment for something you have or haven’t done.
It’s natural to feel sad after cancer has been diagnosed. This feeling may be present a lot of the time, or it may come and go.
Cancer can often mean making changes that affect different areas of your life. As a result, you may experience grief that your future may not turn out as you had planned.
Some people cope by carrying on as normal. They may try not to think or talk about the cancer and its impact on their lives. This is just one way of coping with the situation. If that’s how you feel, you can say quite firmly to the people around you that you’d prefer not to talk about your situation, at least for the time being. It may be difficult for your family or friends to understand that you need some time to deal with what is happening.
However, continuing to avoid the situation may lead to problems later on. It can help to eventually acknowledge the changes cancer has made to your life. You can then think about what will help you cope with these changes.
There may be times when you want to be left alone to sort out your thoughts and emotions. This is a very normal reaction for some people. However, if you find that you would rather be on your own for long periods of time and often avoid talking to other people, this could be a sign that you’re depressed. We have more information about depression and what can help .
There may be times when you feel too tired and helpless to think about what could help. You’ll have good and bad days, and it’s important for you and your family to realise this. Over time, people usually find things they can do to help them feel better.