Feelings and how to deal with them

When you are diagnosed with cancer, you and your partner may experience a variety of emotions that could affect your relationship. These may include:

  • shock
  • denial
  • grief and loss
  • anxiety and uncertainty
  • anger
  • guilt
  • sadness or depression.

You may think you should ignore your feelings to support your partner. But it is hard to block feelings for a long time. You will both need support to cope with your feelings. Try to get the support and information you need early on.

If your feelings are overwhelming or you are depressed, it is important to get professional help.

It can help to talk about your feelings with people outside your relationship. This could be:

  • a relative or friend
  • someone in your cancer team
  • people at a support group, either on your own or with your partner
  • people in Macmillan’s online community
  • a counsellor or psychologist – to find one, ask your hospital team, GP or a counselling organisation.

Your feelings

Cancer can cause a wide range of feelings including grief, anger, and uncertainty. You and your partner may both have these feelings but may have them at different times. You may each have good days when you feel positive, and bad days when your fears and worries are stronger.


Shock

To begin with, you may find the diagnosis difficult to take in. Everything can seem unreal. You might think it can’t be true. You may feel numb and find it difficult to express any emotion. This is natural. It can take time to take in the news and get over the shock.

Denial

Some people appear to deny what is happening as they just want to carry on as normal. Doing this is a way of coping and may give you some time to adjust. But it can also stop you from getting the help you need. If you are struggling, it can help to think about your needs. Then think about what support from others you would like.

Grief and loss

You may feel sad for the loss of the life you and your partner had before cancer. You may feel you have lost the certainty that you had about the future. It’s important to allow yourself to grieve for these losses.

Anxiety and uncertainty

You’ll probably feel anxious about the future, the treatment and how you’re both going to cope. Cancer can take away your sense of security and control. Feeling uncertain about the future can be one of the most difficult things to deal with.

It can be helpful to recognise when you have these feelings. And look after yourself when you feel this way. Try to focus on the things you can change or influence. This is better than putting a lot of energy into trying to change things you can’t control.

Anger

Many people feel irritable or angry. Anger can hide other feelings, such as fear or sadness. You may direct your anger at your partner because you’re close to them. You may both feel resentful of the changes that the cancer has made to your lives.

Guilt

Feeling guilty is common. If you have cancer, you may feel guilty about how it has affected your life and the people close to you.

If your partner has cancer, you may feel guilty about finding it hard to cope or about feeling angry or resentful.

When people feel guilty, they tend to hide their feelings and worries more. This can make it difficult for people to understand what you are going through.

Sadness

Sadness is a natural response when you or someone you care about has cancer. Everyone has good and bad days. It’s not reasonable to expect yourself to feel positive or happy all the time. It’s important to be kind to yourself and look after yourself when you feel sad.

Sadness can come and go. You may feel sad even at times when you would usually enjoy yourself.

Sometimes people can become depressed. Symptoms of depression can include:

  • feeling sad or numb for weeks or more without any relief
  • struggling to enjoy things you would usually get pleasure from
  • sleeping problems
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions.

If you think you or your partner may be depressed, talk to your GP. There are effective treatments that could help. You can also contact a support organisation.

We have more information about how to manage difficult feelings.

Since diagnosis, I’ve been his primary support. I’m tired of making all the effort – I feel like the cancer has unbalanced the relationship. I don’t have much life left.’

Jen


Getting support

You will both find your own way of dealing with your emotions.

It’s important to remember that negative feelings and thoughts often pass. But you may still have good days and bad days.

Try to get yourself the support and information you need early on. This can help you build ways of coping and prevent things becoming more difficult. If your feelings are overwhelming or you are depressed, it is important to get professional help.

If your partner has cancer, you may think you should ignore your feelings to focus on your partner’s needs. If you have cancer, you may try to protect your partner by denying your feelings. But it’s hard to block feelings for a long time. You will both need support to cope with your feelings.

It can help to talk about your feelings with other people outside your relationship. There may be a friend or relative you usually talk to about important issues or difficult problems.

You may also find it helps to talk to one of the cancer team about how you are feeling. Cancer nurse specialists can be a great source of support.

Sharing your experiences with other people who are in a similar situation can also help. You may want to go along to a support group, either on your own or with your partner. Most cancer support groups welcome partners. Ask your cancer nurse about support groups in your area. You can also search for a group near you.

If you are lesbian, gay or transgender you may feel unsure whether you will feel welcome or understood in mainstream support groups. Your specialist nurse may be able to tell you whether there are LGBT-friendly support groups in your area. You can also go to our online community’s LGBT lounge. It’s for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or any other minority sexuality or gender identity. You can also find other organisations that offer support.

Many people find it useful to share their experiences. You can do this through Macmillan’s online community.

Counselling

Sometimes it is easier to talk in confidence to someone who isn’t directly involved in your life.

Many people see a counsellor or psychologist to help them cope with their reactions to cancer. Counselling can also help you:

  • cope with changes in your relationships
  • think through your beliefs and what is important to you
  • deal with practical problems
  • find new ways of coping that you hadn’t thought of before.

You can find out about counselling through:

  • the cancer team at the hospital
  • your GP
  • contacting a counselling organisation directly.

Sometimes talking things over with a stranger is easier, because they are more emotionally detached.

Faith

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