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Like many people, you may feel overwhelmed when you first hear you have cancer, however good the outlook may be.
I’m still me and want everyone to treat me as they did before. I’ve not changed. Louise
I’m still me and want everyone to treat me as they did before. I’ve not changed.
Like many people, you may feel overwhelmed when you first hear you have cancer, however good the outlook might be. You may experience a number of different emotions, such as shock and disbelief. You might also feel numb and find you’re unable to take in what is said, or feel as though it’s all happening to someone else.
Most people are not prepared for being told they have cancer, even if they had thought they may have it. Often the immediate reaction to being told is shock. There are many thoughts and feelings that might go through your head at the time.
Each person’s reaction will vary. You may only be able to take in small amounts of information at a time. And you might have to keep asking the same questions before you understand the answers. This is a common reaction to shock.
Many people find it difficult to believe they have cancer. This is often due to shock, which usually wears off as things become more real. But some people prefer to shut out the news altogether and pretend that it’s not happening. This feeling of denial can help people to deal with threatening or overwhelming news. It’s a normal reaction to distressing or difficult situations.
Denial and avoidance can help people handle the news of cancer. But sometimes this reaction can stop people from doing things they need to do, like going for treatment or sorting out their finances. It can also cause problems if relatives need to discuss particular issues and the person doesn’t accept they have cancer.
Denial can become a problem if it goes on for many weeks or months, or makes it impossible for the person with cancer to talk to those around them. But if you feel that you’re in denial, or if someone close to you points it out, don’t blame yourself or feel that you must hurry to overcome it. People should respect that this is your way of dealing with things for now, while you adjust to your situation.
You may find that your shock, disbelief and denial make it difficult for you to talk about your situation. These are natural reactions to a cancer diagnosis and we discuss them, and other emotions, in our section on the emotional effects of cancer|.
Some people are naturally shy or just not used to talking about personal issues. If this sounds like you, then you may find it difficult to talk about your feelings at a time when it could really help you.
Many people don’t like talking about their own needs because they don’t want to seem pushy, needy, demanding or attention-seeking. Or they may feel the need to protect other people from being upset by their news. However, there will often be friends and relatives who really want to help. So if you can start a conversation with them and say what you need, even if you just want them to listen to you, you may be surprised at how willing they are to support you. By asking for someone else’s support, it shows that we value them. Often they will feel happy knowing that you’re comfortable enough to talk with them about what’s on your mind.
If you find it difficult to talk about your feelings with the people close to you, you may find it helpful to contact a support organisation|. They have people who you can talk things through with in confidence. You can also speak to our cancer support specialists|.
Many people are concerned about losing control of their feelings. You may be unsure about how you will react when you talk to other people – you may be worried that crying will distress the people you love, or that you won’t be able to stop. Wanting to stay strong and believing it’s not good to cry can make it harder when you talk to other people. When dealing with something as difficult as cancer, it’s natural to need to cry and it’s fine if you do. Sometimes the other person may also get upset and cry with you. Crying together can give both of you a real sense of relief and bring you closer together.
People react differently to similar situations. Some may not cry because they find it difficult to believe they’ve got cancer. Just as it’s okay for someone to cry, it’s also okay if they don’t.
Content last reviewed: 1 July 2012
Next planned review: 2014
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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