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.

Common thoughts and feelings

Having cancer means having to deal with issues and situations that may frighten and challenge you. There is no right or wrong way to feel. People have different reactions and emotions at different times. You may experience sudden changes in your moods and feelings. These emotions are part of the process many people go through when dealing with an illness.

Common fears and thoughts about cancer may include:

  • ‘I don’t want to lose my independence and freedom.’
  • ‘I don’t want my family or friends to treat me differently.’
  • ‘I don’t know how I’ll cope financially.’
  • ‘I might miss out on a promotion or lose important work contacts.’
  • ‘I may have to make big changes to my lifestyle.’
  • ‘I may die.’

These are likely to be very real concerns for you and those close to you. It’s fine to worry about them and be upset by them. And it’s fine to cry and say how you feel when things feel tough.

At any time after your cancer diagnosis, you may have the following feelings:

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.

Guilt

Some people may blame themselves or others for the cancer. They might try to find reasons for why it has happened to them. But most of the time, it is impossible to know exactly what has caused a person’s cancer. There are people who can help you get the help and support you need.

Sadness and depression

You may feel sad that cancer has interrupted plans you had or that your future feels uncertain. Feeling sad is a natural reaction to loss. It may come and go throughout your treatment and after it has finished. For most people, these periods of sadness will pass. But for some people, their sadness may continue or get worse. Their sadness may be turning into depression.

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.

Cancer can turn your life upside down. You can experience just about every emotion a human being can feel – a real rollercoaster of ups and downs.

Iain

It made me feel angry. Because not only was cancer threatening my life, it was changing my appearance so my daughters couldn’t recognise me as their mum anymore.

Waheed, diagnosed with bone cancer in 2013


Advanced cancer

If your doctor has told you your cancer is advanced, you may feel shocked and find it hard to accept. You may feel frightened about the future, or angry with other people or yourself. With time, these feelings can become more manageable. Some people find that starting to make plans and decisions helps.

Although it is rare for advanced cancer to be cured, some people may live with it for a long time – sometimes for years. During this time, many people carry on with their day-to-day lives and do things that are important to them.

Our information about advanced cancer has suggestions to help you manage difficult feelings.

It’s impossible not to be affected by finding out you have an incurable condition. I think you just have to accept it. Don’t count the days – make the days count.

Daren


Do feelings affect the cancer?

Your feelings and attitudes can affect the way you cope with cancer and its treatment. But there is no evidence that your thoughts, feelings or attitudes can influence the cancer itself. There is also no evidence that feeling negative or sad can delay your recovery from cancer or its treatment.

Cancer is influenced by many things, including our environment, our diet, and our genetic and physical make-up. So whatever you are feeling is okay. It is important that you are able to talk honestly, and cry if you need to. This can help release tension and stress. It can even bring you closer to the person you are talking to.

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.

What you can do

Take each day at a time. There are many different ways to manage your feelings.