Understanding your emotions

It is common to have many different emotions when you are told you have cancer. These can be difficult to cope with. Partners, family and friends may also have some of the same feelings.

There are lots of different reactions to cancer. You might not have any of the emotions we talk about here. There is no right or wrong way to feel. You will cope with things in your own way. Common feelings include:

  • Shock and denial

    You may find it hard to believe that you have cancer when you are first diagnosed. It is common to feel shocked and numb. You may not be able to understand all the information you are given. You may find that you keep asking the same questions. At first, it can be hard to talk about the cancer. Or you might find it hard to think or talk about anything else. Both reactions are normal. These feelings usually get easier over time.

  • Fear

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

  • Sadness

    You may feel sad if you have to change your plans because of the cancer, or if your future feels uncertain. Feeling sad is a natural reaction to changes or loss. This feeling may come and go during and after your treatment. For most people, these periods of sadness get better. But for some people, the sadness may continue or get worse. If you think the sadness may be turning into depression, there are things you can do to help.

  • Avoidance

    You may cope by trying not to find out much about the cancer. Or by not talking about it. If you feel like this, tell people that you do not want to talk about it right now. You can also tell your cancer doctor if there are things you do not want to know or talk about yet. Sometimes, it may be hard to accept that you have cancer. This can stop you making decisions about treatment. If this happens, it is very important to get help from your healthcare team.

  • Anger

    You may feel angry about your diagnosis. You may also resent other people for being well. These are normal reactions. They are more likely when you feel frightened, stressed or unwell.

    We have more information on anger.

  • Guilt and blame

    You may feel guilty or blame yourself for the cancer. You may want to find reasons for why it has happened to you. Most of the time, it is impossible to know exactly what causes a cancer. Over time, a combination of different risk factors may cause a cancer. Doctors do not fully understand all these factors yet.

  • Feeling alone

    You may feel alone or isolated. This could be because you do not think you have support. Family and friends may live far away, be busy or feel uncomfortable talking about the cancer. 

    We have more information on loneliness and isolation.

These feelings are normal. But they may continue or get worse over time. If you think these thoughts might be turning into depression or anxiety, there is help available.

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Physical symptoms of your feelings

The stress of cancer and its treatment can affect you physically. You may notice some of the following changes if you are anxious, depressed or stressed:

These effects and how long they last will be different for everyone.

Talking about how you feel

Many people do not like talking about cancer and how it is affecting them. You may find the idea of talking upsetting or uncomfortable. But talking to someone about how you feel can help you cope with your emotions. Talking about things can make you feel supported. It can also help you make decisions that are best for you.

If you can, talk openly about your feelings with people you trust. It can help you feel less anxious or frightened. Try to start a conversation and say how you feel. You may be surprised at how willing people are to listen and support you.

We have more information about the benefits of talking and how to ask for support.

Who you can talk to

You may want to talk to someone you know well. This could be a partner, family member or friend.

Or you may find it easier to talk to someone you do not know well. This could be your cancer doctor, GP or specialist nurse, or a religious or spiritual leader. You doctor or nurse may be able to refer you to a psychologist or counsellor.

Some organisations like Mind can offer this type of support too.

You might find self-help groups or online communities useful, such as our Online Community. This might be a good option if you find it hard to talk to the people close to you. You can also speak to one of our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00 (7 days a week, 8am to 8pm).

We have more information about the different types of help available.

Relationships and your emotions

Managing family life and work, as well as coping with cancer, may seem impossible. It can also feel difficult to support other people when you feel you need support yourself. You may worry about the impact that cancer will have on your relationships, friends and family.

We have more information about the impact cancer can have on:

Looking after yourself

During and after cancer treatment, there are things you can do to improve your general health and wellbeing. This can make you feel more in control of what is happening to you. If you feel that your emotions are building up, focusing on your wellbeing can help you release your tension.

You may want to:

You could also:

  • write down how you feel
  • join a support group
  • go for a walk or play music
  • make time to relax
  • do mindfulness or meditation
  • use complementary therapies.

How we can help

Macmillan Cancer Support Line
The Macmillan Support Line offers confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. If you need to talk, we'll listen.
Macmillan Telephone Buddies
With a weekly call from one of our trained Telephone Buddies, you don't have to face cancer alone.
0808 808 00 00
7 days a week, 8am - 8pm
Email us
Get in touch via this form
Chat online
7 days a week, 8am - 8pm
Online Community
An anonymous network of people affected by cancer which is free to join. Share experiences, ask questions and talk to people who understand.
Help in your area
What's going on near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you live.