It is normal to feel uncertain about your future when you have been diagnosed with cancer. There are ways that you can help manage these feelings.

Understanding uncertainty

Uncertainty can be one of the hardest feelings to deal with. Not knowing what is going to happen might make you feel irritable, angry and frightened.

Feeling that we have some control over our lives makes us feel secure. This allows us to enjoy the things we do and make plans for the future. But being diagnosed with cancer can take away that feeling of security. It can make you uncertain about what will happen.

You may find that doctors cannot answer some of your questions, or that you are unsure what their answers mean. For example, it is often impossible for them to say how well a treatment will work. Doctors may know the statistics for how many people will benefit from a treatment. But they cannot predict how it will affect you.

If you understand how your progress will be measured, it may help you cope better. For example, you could ask, 'Can you see from the x-rays if the treatment is working?'

Uncertainty after cancer treatment

We all like to know what is going to happen to us. It helps us feel secure about the future. After treatment, you may feel that this has been taken away from you. You may find yourself worrying about whether treatment has worked. Your future may feel uncertain, and you may find it difficult to make plans.

Uncertainty can be stressful. You may find there are situations that make you worry more. Sometimes you may feel worried, but not know exactly why. But knowing what makes you worried can help. Worry and anxiety are common reactions, but there are helpful ways to manage these feelings. For example, try not to compare yourself with others. No two cancer experiences are the same, even if they are the same type of cancer.

Worrying about cancer coming back

Even when your doctor is reassuring, it is normal to still worry that the cancer might come back. A new symptom could be nothing to do with cancer. You may get the normal aches and pains everyone gets. Or they could be caused by treatment side effects. We have more information on signs and symptoms to be aware of. Always check any new symptoms with your GP, cancer doctor or specialist nurse. This can help with feelings of worry and uncertainty.

Coping with uncertainty

There are ways to help you manage worry and uncertainty. Realising that you will always have some of these feelings can be a good place to start. This may be hard and can take time, but there are people who can help you with this.

Focusing on what you can control right now is one way of managing your worries. It can help you to stop dwelling on future ‘what ifs’. Rather than worrying about things that may never happen, concentrate on what you can influence and do now. You could:

  • talk about how you feel
  • become more involved in your own care
  • follow advice from your cancer team
  • focus on your well-being
  • know when you need help with overwhelming feelings and where to get it.

Different things work for different people, so you may need to try a few approaches to see what you find most helpful.

You can also use our Online Community to:

  • talk to people in our chat rooms
  • blog about your experiences
  • make friends
  • join support groups.

You can also call the Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00, 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 28 February 2019
Next review: 28 February 2022

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

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