Cancer and your feelings

It is natural to have many different thoughts and feelings after a cancer diagnosis. Some people feel upset, shocked or anxious, while others feel angry, guilty or alone. There is no right way for you to feel.

Emotions can be difficult for you, and people close to you, to deal with. You may find that some feelings pass with time, while others last longer. Try to find a way of coping that suits you.

It is impossible to know how you will react to a diagnosis of cancer. Common feelings include:

  • shock and denial
  • fear and anxiety
  • guilt
  • sadness and depression
  • anger.

You may also have different feelings if your doctor has told you your cancer is advanced.

There are many ways to manage your emotions. Sharing your thoughts and feelings is often a good place to start. Try talking with someone close. Remember, help is always available if you need it. If you are struggling to cope, speak to your doctor, family or friends.

The way you feel can influence the way you cope with cancer and its treatment. But there is no evidence that feelings can affect the cancer itself.

Guilt

Some people feel guilty or blame themselves or others for the cancer. Or you may try to find reasons for why it has happened to you.

Because of the part of the body affected and the risk factors involved, some people may feel ashamed or embarrassed. Remember that most people have HPV at some point without even knowing it. Try not to feel you’re to blame in any way. Focus on looking after yourself and getting the help and support you need.

Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or nurse as many questions as you like, as this may help to put your mind at rest. If you feel that you need support, you can contact our cancer support specialists.


Shock and disbelief

You may find the diagnosis hard to believe and feel numb. You may not be able to take in much information and keep asking the same questions. You might find it hard to talk to family or friends about the cancer. We have more information on the benefits of talking. This includes some tips on asking for support, and what to do if you don’t want to talk.


Fear and anxiety

You may feel frightened about the treatment and about whether it will work. You might be anxious about what will happen in the future. We have more information about fear and anxiety.


Avoidance

Some people cope by not wanting to know very much about the cancer and by not talking about it. If you feel like this, let your family and friends know that you don’t want to talk about it right now. You can also tell your doctor if there are things you don’t want to know or talk about yet.

Occasionally, this avoidance can be extreme. Some people may not believe that they have cancer. This is sometimes called being in denial. It may stop them making decisions about treatment. If this happens, it’s very important for them to get help from their doctor.

Sometimes, avoidance is the other way around. Family and friends may seem to avoid you and the fact that you have cancer. They may not want to talk about it or they might change the subject. This is usually because they are also finding the cancer difficult to cope with, and they may need support too. Try to let them know how this makes you feel and that talking openly with them about your illness will help you.


Anger

You may get angry with the people close to you. You may even resent other people for being well. These are normal reactions. Let people close to you know that you are angry at your illness and not at them. Finding ways to help you relax and reduce stress can help with anger. You can also take positive steps to help yourself.

It is important to remember that everyone reacts differently. There is no right or wrong way to feel.


Loneliness and isolation

It is common for people affected by cancer to feel lonely or isolated. These feelings can happen at any stage of the illness.

You might feel that no one understands what you are going through. Or that other people are trying to be so positive that you can’t say what you really feel. You may feel lonely even if you are surrounded by people close to you.

You may find that the less you talk about it, the more the cancer becomes all you think about, and the more alone you feel. Finding the courage to talk to just one person can be the first step towards helping you feel better.


If you need more help

These feelings can be very difficult to cope with and sometimes people need more help. This happens to lots of people and doesn’t mean you’re not coping.

If you feel anxious, panicky or sad a lot of the time, or think you may be depressed, talk to your doctor or nurse. They can refer you to a doctor or counsellor who can help. They may also prescribe medicine to help with anxiety or an antidepressant drug.

We have more information about how you may feel.

Back to Dealing with your emotions

Feeling alone

People with cancer often feel lonely or isolated. There are ways to manage these feelings.

Coping with depression

Depression can be difficult to recognise, so try not to ignore your feelings. Help is always available.