How cancer can affect your emotions

Finding out that someone close to you has cancer can cause many emotions and can affect your mental health. Common first reactions are ‘What is going to happen? Will they recover?’ and then, ‘Are they going to die?’

It is common to have many different emotions. For example, you may feel:

  • frightened about the future
  • sad and upset that this is happening to someone you love
  • exhausted or stressed because of the extra things you are doing
  • angry with the world or the person who has cancer
  • lonely or isolated
  • guilty, even though what is happening is not your fault
  • worried or sad.

It can also be hard to concentrate at school or college, find time to study or keep in touch with friends. These are just some examples of how you may feel, but everyone is different. Feelings like these are natural. We have more information about dealing with your emotions when you know someone with cancer.

It can feel challenging and like a big responsibility to be a young carer. But there can also be positive things about the experience. You may become closer to the person you look after, learn new skills in your caring role and feel more grown-up.

 

Mood swings

Every day is different when you look after someone with cancer. You will have good days and bad days.

During this confusing time, you may have mood swings. This is when you feel happy one moment and then sad the next. One minute you could be laughing with your friends and the next you could burst into tears. Try not to worry too much about this. When you are dealing with difficult situations, it may take some time for your emotions to develop. You may have a delayed reaction.

It can be difficult for people to understand your mood swings if they do not know that you are affected by cancer. You do not have to explain your situation. But, if you feel comfortable with someone, it may help to share what is happening.

Depression

If your low moods continue for more than 2 weeks, this may be a sign you are depressed. We have more information about depression and its symptoms.

If you think you may be depressed, it is important that you get some support. Remember that depression is not anybody’s fault. There are many treatments that can help.

Your GP, healthcare or social care worker, young carer's service or school can help. They can help you find the support you need, such as a helpline or support group. We also have information about looking after yourself and other organisations that can help support you.

If you think the person you care for is depressed

You may be worried that the person you care for is depressed. Try talking to them about it and suggest they get support from a doctor or nurse. If you are not comfortable doing this, or it does not help, speak to another adult. Depression is an illness that needs to be treated. Most people with depression feel better with the right treatment and support.

Writing down your feelings

It can help to write down how you are feeling. It may be easier than saying it out loud and can help you to work out how you feel. You may choose to share the feelings you have written down with others.

Good days and bad days

You may like to write about your good and bad days. You could list things that made you feel happy or sad, and things that helped you feel better.

Try to think about things you can do to have more good days and write these down as well.

Hopes and fears

It may help you cope if you talk about or write down:

  • what is frightening you
  • things that you hope will happen.

You may realise that there are some things you cannot change, because they are out of your control. Rather than focusing on these things, you can put your time and energy into helping yourself feel better.

It might also help to think about what you could do next. These may be things that help you cope with your fears. For example:

  • talking to the person you care for
  • joining a support group
  • chatting to other carers
  • asking for extra help with everyday things.

Telling people how you feel

Talking about your feelings can help you feel less stressed and more in control. You may feel comfortable with some parts of your role as a young carer, but uncomfortable about other parts. Remember that it is okay to share these feelings.

You may try not to get upset in front of the person who has cancer, in case you worry them. That is fine, but make sure you are not dealing with everything on your own. If possible, talk to someone else in the family or your friends about how you feel. We have some information about talking about your feelings that you may find helpful.

If you do not feel comfortable talking to family or friends, maybe a young carer worker or an adult at school or college could help. This does not have to be your form tutor or one of your teachers – it could be the school nurse or a teaching assistant. You may find it useful to get help from a counsellor (see below).

Coping with other people's feelings

It can be hard to cope with an adult getting upset or angry in front of you. You may not have dealt with this before. You may feel uncomfortable or helpless, or not know what to say.

Often, the best thing is just to be there for the person with cancer. We have more information about listening and talking with to someone with cancer.

If you have brothers or sisters, they may also get upset. You may want to comfort them, especially if they are younger than you. It is not always easy to know what to say or do. But just trying your best to listen to how they feel can be a big help.

Families often say that something like cancer brings them closer together. But being a young carer can also sometimes make you feel alone. Having someone in the family with cancer can put a lot of pressure on everyone. This may mean that people get angry and upset more often, or argue with each other.

If you want to talk to someone about the situation at home, you can email, or call our Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00 (7 days a week, 8am to 8pm).

Counselling and talking therapies

Spending time talking to a professional trained to listen can be useful. They may be called a counsellor, therapist or psychologist. These professionals can help you explore your feelings and find ways to cope better.

Talking, counselling and support groups are called talking therapies. Talking about your thoughts and feelings can help you cope with stress, anxiety and difficult emotions.

There are many types of talking therapies and your GP can help you get the right support for your situation. There may also be a counsellor at your school or college. Some young carers’ services also offer counselling.

You can decide how much you would like to share with the counsellor. Any information you give them is confidential. This means they will not tell anybody else.

There is no need to feel embarrassed about talking to someone. Counsellors are there to help. We have more information about talking to a counsellor.

If you do not feel comfortable talking to the counsellor you are given, you can ask to see someone else. There is no need to feel bad about this. It is important that you trust your counsellor and feel comfortable with them. If someone referred you, they may be able to arrange for you to see a different counsellor.

Drink and drugs

Sometimes people use alcohol or drugs to escape their feelings when they are stressed or upset. But in the long term, this can make you feel worse and damage your health and self-esteem.

If you are thinking about drinking alcohol or taking drugs, talk to someone about how you feel. This could be anyone you trust, such as a family member, friend, GP, social worker or young carer worker. They can help you find other ways to cope and encourage you to make safe, healthy decisions.

If you already use drink or drugs to help you cope, it is important to get support quickly. You could try talking to family and friends. If you are not comfortable doing that, the following organisations may be able to help:

It is also a good idea to see your GP, who can refer you for counselling and to support services.

Other things that could help you cope are:

  • physical activity, such as running or swimming
  • talking to a friend
  • changing your routine, so you are not thinking about alcohol or drugs at certain points of the day.

If your friends encourage you to drink a lot or take drugs, it may be better to spend time with other people.

You can watch videos of young people sharing their personal stories about alcohol and drugs on healthtalk's website.

Self-harm

Self-harm is when you deliberately hurt yourself. Anyone can self-harm, but it is often linked to difficult experiences such as extreme stress or being bullied.

People who care for someone with cancer may be at risk of self-harm. If you have any thoughts about self-harming or have started to hurt yourself, it is very important to get help quickly. Try to tell a family member, friend or young carer worker what is happening. We also have a list of organisations that can help.

It is also important to make an appointment with your GP. They can treat you if you are depressed and arrange for you to get the right support.

You can watch a video and find advice about getting support on the NHS website.

About our information


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.