How you might feel

Going through cancer can be an emotional roller coaster, with many ups and downs. This is often the case for the person who has cancer but it can also be true for the people who are close to them.

When you are supporting someone with cancer, you may have many different feelings. They may come and go and be stronger at some times than others. Some people believe they should ignore their feelings to focus on the needs of the person with cancer. But it’s hard to try to block your feelings for a long time. You will need to take care of yourself during what can be a very stressful time in your life. Paying attention to your feelings is an important part of this and it will help you support the person with cancer better.

Shock

When you first hear that someone close to you has cancer, you may find the news difficult to take in. Everything can seem unreal. You might think it can’t be true. You may feel numb and unable to express any emotion. This is natural. It can take time to absorb unexpected information.


Fear

It can be an anxious time. There are many different triggers for fears and worries. These can include:

  • diagnosis
  • treatment
  • test results
  • making decisions.

You may worry about the future and feel uncertain.

When mum was diagnosed, I wanted to run away, but I knew that it was time for me to be strong.

Melvin


Grief

You may feel sad for the loss of the life you, and the person you care about, had before cancer. You may feel you have lost the certainty that the people you love are okay. It’s important to allow yourself to grieve for these losses. It takes time to come to terms with them.


Sadness

Sadness is a natural response when someone you care about has cancer. You’re probably feeling sad for the person who is ill, and wishing it hadn’t happened.

Everyone has good and bad days. It’s not reasonable to expect yourself to feel positive or happy all of the time. But if you feel sad for weeks or more, without any relief, you may be depressed. Depression can affect your sleep pattern, and your ability to concentrate or make decisions.

If you think you may be depressed, talk to your GP. There are effective treatments that can help you.


Anger

There are different reasons for anger. You may feel angry because:

  • this has happened to the person you care about and to you
  • you are trying to cope with too much
  • your anger is covering other uncomfortable feelings, such as fear or anxiety.

Talking to someone about how you feel can help stop anger from building up. If you find it difficult to control your anger, look out for warning signs that you’re getting angry. When you notice them, try counting to ten, breathing deeply or walking away.


Guilt

Feelings of guilt are common. You may feel guilty about:

  • being well when the person you care about isn’t
  • whether you are doing enough for the person with cancer
  • not doing a perfect job as a carer
  • feeling resentful if your own needs aren’t being met
  • not being able to give as much time to other roles, such as being a parent, partner or employee.

Using words like ‘should’ and ‘must’ when thinking about what you need to do can make you feel more guilty. Try to notice when you use these words and see whether you can avoid them.

If you feel guilty, talk about it with someone you trust. They may help you see things differently.


Loneliness

When someone close to you has cancer, you may feel like you’re on your own. You may feel that other people don’t understand what you’re going through. If you have caring responsibilities, people may not really understand what this involves. They may not realise how many extra responsibilities you have. It could be helpful to explain this to them.

If you are a carer, try to arrange for someone else to spend time with the person you are caring for. This will give you a break, even if it’s only a few hours a week. If there isn’t a relative or friend who can take over for a few hours, speak to your GP or social worker, or the cancer team at the hospital. They can help you get an assessment of your needs, which can lead to valuable support. We have more information for carers.


Anxiety

When someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer, it’s normal to worry about what will happen in the months or years ahead. Fear and anxiety are natural reactions to this situation.


Tiredness and exhaustion

You will probably feel tired and even exhausted sometimes. Spending time looking after someone can be physically and emotionally draining. It’s important to take care of yourself and make sure you don’t become overwhelmed.


Denial

Denying that someone close to you has cancer after their diagnosis is a normal reaction. If you feel in denial, don’t blame yourself or feel that you must hurry to overcome it.

Denial can be a useful way of coping with the news, both for you and the person with cancer. But if it lasts for weeks or months, it can become a problem.

If the person you care for is diagnosed with advanced cancer, denial may be a way of coping for you both.


Resentment

If you are caring for someone, you may have times when you feel resentful. It’s natural to feel like this. You may not have much time to enjoy hobbies or go out and see your friends. The person you’re caring for may sometimes be moody, self-centred and withdrawn. They may have become more irritable since they became ill, especially if they’re in pain. They may not always seem to appreciate what you’re doing for them. Many people take out their fear, anxiety or frustration on the person closest to them. If this is happening to you, you may sometimes feel unwanted and resentful. Trying to talk about this may help, perhaps find a time when you're both having a better day.

You may find it easier to talk about your feelings with someone else. Sometimes feelings of anger and guilt can build up, especially if you're not able to talk about them. Give yourselves a chance to try to understand how the other person feels and you may be able to avoid your anger and irritation building into an argument. If you are caring for someone with cancer, we have more information to help you.

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