Emotional and practical support with cancer pain

Pain can affect many aspects of your life. It doesn’t just affect your body, it also affects your thoughts and feelings. Having pain can be overwhelming. You may not feel like this all the time, but getting the right emotional and practical support can make it easier to cope.

Feeling better emotionally may make your physical pain feel better. Talking about your feelings to someone close can help. Or you could talk to your GP or our cancer support specialists. They can help you to find local support groups or counselling organisations.

Pain can sometimes cause people to question their faith or spirituality, even if they’re not religious. This can be very emotional and may make pain worse. Speaking to a religious or spiritual leader could help.

A number of organisations and schemes also offer practical support and information to people with cancer.

Your feelings and cancer pain

Having cancer affects every part of your life. Being in pain not only affects your body, it also interferes with your thoughts and feelings. People can have lots of emotions when they are in pain. You may feel:

  • angry
  • hopeless
  • frustrated
  • anxious
  • isolated
  • fearful
  • depressed
  • frightened
  • like you have lost control.

Being in pain may stop you from doing the things you enjoy. You may not be able to go out as much or go to work. You may not be able to do everyday things any more. Feelings can change from day to day. Sometimes it can all be overwhelming, but you’re not alone in feeling like this.


Depression is a common condition that affects around 1 out of 10 people (10%). It can be triggered by difficult events, including a cancer diagnosis or treatment. If you are depressed, you may feel very low in mood most of the time.

You may not have much energy and not be able to sleep. You may cry a lot and get very little pleasure from activities you usually enjoy. You may feel it is not worth looking after yourself properly.

If you are depressed, pain can often feel worse and it can seem harder to cope with. When you are depressed, the body makes chemicals that make the body more sensitive to pain. Talk to your GP if you think that you are depressed. They can help you to get the right treatment and support. They may suggest that you see a doctor trained in treating depression.

Your GP may suggest you take an anti-depressant, or a sedative drug such as citalopram. This can help improve your mood or reduce anxiety. Don’t feel bad about this. It is common to be prescribed one of these. Many people with cancer or cancer pain find these medicines help them cope.

Emotional support for you

There are many people and organisations that can help you cope with these feelings. Non-medical treatments may also help. Ask your doctor or specialist palliative care nurse which ones would be best for you.

If you feel okay emotionally, your physical pain may feel better. It can help to talk about your feelings. You could talk to your partner, a close friend or a family member. If you don’t talk about your feelings, the people close to you may not realise you are in pain or how the pain is making you feel. They may not understand why you are angry or upset.

If you don’t want to talk to anyone you know about your feelings, talk to your GP or specialist palliative care nurse. They can help by putting you in contact with a counsellor. You could also contact the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Or you can speak to our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

Other organisations that offer advice, support and information about pain include Action on Pain, The British Pain Society and Pain Concern.

Support groups

It can often help to share how you are feeling with other people who understand what you’re going through. Self-help or support groups offer a chance to talk to other people who may also be managing pain.

Online support

Many people get support on the internet. There are online support groups, social networking sites, forums, chat rooms and blogs for people affected by cancer. These include Macmillan’s Online Community. You can use these to share your experience and ask questions, get advice, or just read about other people’s experiences.

Spiritual help when you have cancer

Cancer can force people to take life more seriously, to question its meaning and to stop taking things for granted. Some people who have religious beliefs may find their faith greatly shaken by their cancer diagnosis. Even people who have never been regular worshippers may experience spiritual, as well as emotional, pain. People often ask questions such as, ‘Is there life after death?’ and ‘Why should the people I love suffer?’ These unanswered questions can cause great emotional and spiritual pain. This can then increase the experience of physical pain.

It’s often hard to accept or understand why an illness like cancer happens to you or to those you love. People often have feelings of anger and guilt, and you may worry about how the cancer will affect your family now and in the future. Sometimes the strength of these emotions may make you feel isolated and frightened, and you may withdraw from family and friends. It can help to talk to someone about these feelings.

Some people find great comfort in religion at this time, and it may help to talk to a local minister, hospital chaplain, or other religious or spiritual leader. If you don’t feel that this is the right sort of support for you, talking with family and friends, a counsellor or someone from a cancer support organisation may help.

Cancer pain and practical worries

You may be anxious about your treatment or worried about coping at home. You may be having financial problems or concerns about being able to keep working.

Often, family or friends can help by getting information from doctors and nurses for you, or by researching services that can help. Sometimes there is little that they can say or do, but just having them there to listen and understand can be a huge relief.

Getting help with the things that worry you can help you cope better with pain. If you are less stressed, this can make pain easier to control.

If you’re worried about your pain affecting how you get to the shops or to appointments, you may find the Blue Badge scheme useful. It gives parking concessions (allowances) for people with mobility problems. It means that you can park close to where you want to go.

If you need help to do everyday things, such as shopping, posting letters or getting around, there are voluntary and community organisations that may be able to offer support.