Cancer and your feelings

It’s natural to have many different thoughts and feelings after a cancer diagnosis. Some people feel upset, shocked or anxious, while others feel angry, guilty or alone. There is no right way for you to feel.

Emotions can be difficult for you, and people close to you, to deal with. You may find that some feelings pass with time, while others last longer. Try to find a way of coping that suits you.

It’s impossible to know how you will react to a diagnosis of cancer. Common feelings include:

  • shock and disbelief
  • anger
  • avoidance
  • guilt and blame
  • a loss of control, independence and confidence
  • sorrow and sadness
  • withdrawal
  • loneliness and isolation
  • fear and uncertainty
  • anxiety.

There are many ways to manage your emotions. Sharing your thoughts and feelings is often a good place to start. Try talking with someone close. Remember, help is always available if you need it. Speak to your doctor, family or friend if you are struggling to cope.

Guilt

Some people feel guilty or blame themselves or others for the cancer. Or you may try to find reasons for why it has happened to you.

Because of the part of the body affected and the risk factors involved, some people may feel ashamed or embarrassed. Remember that most people have HPV at some point without even knowing it. Try not to feel you’re to blame in any way. Focus on looking after yourself and getting the help and support you need.

Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or nurse as many questions as you like, as this may help to put your mind at rest. If you feel that you need support, you can contact our cancer support specialists.


Shock and disbelief

When your doctor tells you that you have cancer, you may find it hard to believe. It’s common to feel shocked and numb. You may not be able to take in much information and find that you keep asking the same questions again and again.

At first, you might find it hard to talk to family and friends about the cancer. This usually gets easier as the shock wears off and it becomes more real to you.

You may find you can’t think or talk about anything but the cancer. This is because your mind is trying to process what you’re going through.


Fear and anxiety

People can be very anxious or frightened about whether treatment will work and what will happen in the future. This uncertainty can be one of the hardest things to cope with. It can help to try to focus on what you can control. You may want to find out more about the cancer, its treatment and how to manage side effects. It can also help to talk about your feelings and to take time to do things that are important to you and that you enjoy.

Doctors often know roughly how many people can benefit from a type of treatment. But they can’t be sure what will happen to an individual person. Although they may not be able to answer your questions fully, they can usually talk through any problems with you and give you some guidance.


Avoidance

Some people cope by not wanting to know very much about the cancer and by not talking about it. If you feel like this, let your family and friends know that you don’t want to talk about it right now. You can also tell your doctor if there are things you don’t want to know or talk about yet.

Occasionally, this avoidance can be extreme. Some people may not believe that they have cancer. This is sometimes called being in denial. It may stop them making decisions about treatment. If this happens, it’s very important for them to get help from their doctor.

Sometimes, avoidance is the other way around. Family and friends may seem to avoid you and the fact that you have cancer. They may not want to talk about it or they might change the subject. This is usually because they are also finding the cancer difficult to cope with, and they may need support too. Try to let them know how this makes you feel and that talking openly with them about your illness will help you.


Anger

You may feel angry about your illness and sometimes resent other people for being well. These are normal reactions, especially when you feel frightened, stressed, out of control or unwell. You may get angry with the people close to you. Let them know that you are angry at your illness and not at them.


Feeling alone

Some people feel alone or that they don’t have enough support. Family and friends may live far away, have other commitments or feel uncomfortable because of their own fears about cancer. We talk more about what you can do if you feel lonely and isolated.


If you need more help

These feelings can be very difficult to cope with and sometimes people need more help. This happens to lots of people and doesn’t mean you’re not coping.

If you feel anxious, panicky or sad a lot of the time, or think you may be depressed, talk to your doctor or nurse. They can refer you to a doctor or counsellor who can help. They may also prescribe medicine to help with anxiety or an antidepressant drug.

We have more information about how you may feel.

Back to Dealing with your emotions

What you can do

Take each day at a time. There are many different ways to manage your feelings.

Coping with depression

Depression can be difficult to recognise, so try not to ignore your feelings. Help is always available.