Your feelings

It is natural to have a range of emotions when coping with advanced cancer. How often and how strong these feelings are will vary. Most people find that over time they learn to cope with their feelings with support from family, friends and healthcare professionals.

Worrying about the future

You may worry about how you will cope as the cancer develops. Or you may be concerned about practical issues, such as your work or finances. Uncertainty can be one of the hardest things for you to deal with. It is difficult to make plans when you do not know what is going to happen. You can ask your healthcare team about this. But they may only be able to give you an idea of what will happen, because they do not know for sure. If you are feeling very anxious, there are things you can do that may help you manage anxiety.

Fear

Many people with advanced cancer feel frightened. You may feel afraid of the illness itself, the symptoms, or the treatment and its possible side effects. You may worry about the effect it will have on your family, the future or dying. Often, talking through the reality of what may or may not happen can make it less frightening.

Anger

It is natural to feel angry if you have advanced cancer. You may feel angry about being unwell and having to cope with treatment and side effects. You might also be angry about the impact the cancer has had on your life and your future. You may feel frustrated that you need to have tests and treatment and that your long-term plans are less certain. We have more information about coping with anger.

Feelings about death and dying

Being diagnosed with advanced cancer can make you think about how long you might live and when you will die. Dying is something that is certain for all of us. But it is not something that we talk about very much.

Some people feel calm about the fact that they are going to die. But others are frightened by the thought.

Death cafes are opportunities to meet with other people to talk about death. Being with others who are having similar feelings and emotions can make it easier to talk about your own feelings.

Death cafes are led by someone who will help and support the conversation. They are held in different places throughout the country. Some hospices help with these and have dates of when and where they are being held locally. Visit deathcafe.com to find out more.

Talking about feelings

We all express and manage our feelings in different ways. It may be clear how someone is feeling by what they say and how they say it. But sometimes, one emotion can cover another. For example, a person might be frightened but express this by being short-tempered or irritable.

Talking about our feelings can help us understand the cause of our behaviour. This is not always easy, so it is important to talk to someone you trust. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your emotions, there are healthcare professionals who can support you.

Spiritual, religious or pastoral support

Many people find their faith can offer them emotional support and strength during their illness. Some people may find they become more aware of religious or spiritual feelings. Other people may find themselves questioning their faith when they are told their cancer has come back or spread.

You may find it helpful to talk to a religious or spiritual leader or advisor. They can offer emotional and spiritual comfort, and help you feel more at peace with your situation. Even if you have not attended religious services regularly before or are not sure what you believe, you can still talk to someone. They are used to dealing with uncertainty and will not be shocked.

Hospices usually provide spiritual support to people of all faiths or no faith. This is often available through their day services.

You may prefer to talk to someone who is not religious. Humanist Care has volunteers who can provide non-religious pastoral support.

Medicines that can help

Sometimes feelings of anxiety and depression can affect your ability to cope with everything that is happening. Your GP, hospital specialist or palliative care doctor may be able to prescribe medicines to help you to cope.

Things you can do yourself

There are things you can do yourself that can help you cope with your feelings. Some people find that keeping a diary or journal helps them express their thoughts and feelings.

Many people use complementary therapies to help them cope with symptoms, stress or anxiety. These therapies include:

  • meditation
  • visualisation
  • relaxation
  • aromatherapy
  • a combination of these techniques.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you to recognise any unhelpful thoughts. We have more information about talking, counselling and support groups.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a technique which combines CBT and mindfulness. Mindfulness helps you learn to focus on the present moment using techniques like meditation, breathing techniques and yoga. There are a few centres in the UK that offer MBCT classes on the NHS. Talk to your healthcare team to find out where classes are available.

We have more information about mind-body therapies.

How we can help

Clinical Information Nurse Specialists
Our Cancer Information Nurse Specialists are dedicated cancer nurses available to talk to on our Macmillan Cancer Support Line. 
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