Leukaemia and your feelings

It is natural to have many different thoughts and feelings after a leukaemia 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 get easier 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 leukaemia. Common feelings include:

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

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.

How you might feel

It’s common to feel overwhelmed by different feelings when you’re told that you have leukaemia. We talk about some of these. Partners, family and friends may also have some of the same feelings. You might have different reactions to the ones we describe. There is no right or wrong way to feel. You’ll cope with things in your own way. Talking to people close to you or other people affected by leukaemia can often help.


Shock and disbelief

You may find it hard to believe it when your doctor tells you that you have leukaemia. It’s common to feel shocked and numb. You may not be able to take in much information and find that you keep asking the same questions again and again. At first, you might find it hard to talk to family and friends about the leukaemia. This usually gets easier as the shock wears off and it becomes more real to you. You may find you can’t think or talk about anything but the leukaemia. This is because your mind is trying to process what you’re going through


Fear and anxiety

People can be worried about whether treatment will work and what will happen in the future. This can be hard to cope with. It can help to try to focus on what you can control. You may want to find out more about the leukaemia, its treatment and how to manage side effects. It can also help to talk about your feelings and to take time to do things that are important to you and that you enjoy. You can also talk to your doctor about your concerns.


Avoidance

Some people cope by not wanting to know very much about the leukaemia 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 leukaemia. 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 leukaemia. They may not want to talk about it or they might change the subject. This is usually because they are also finding the leukaemia 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 feel angry about your illness and sometimes resent other people for being well. These are normal reactions, especially when you feel frightened, stressed, out of control or unwell. You may get angry with the people close to you. Let them 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. This can include talking about or writing down how you feel, gentle exercise, breathing or relaxation therapy, yoga or meditation.


Guilt and blame

Some people feel guilty or blame themselves or others for the leukaemia. You may try to find reasons for why it has happened to you. Most of the time, it’s impossible to know exactly what has caused a person’s leukaemia. Over time, several different factors may act together to cause a leukaemia. Doctors don’t fully understand all of these factors yet. Instead, try to focus on looking after yourself and getting the help and support you need. 


Feeling alone

Some people feel alone because they don’t have enough support. Family and friends may live far away, have other commitments or feel uncomfortable because of their own fears about leukaemia. Try to let your family and friends know how you feel and how they could support you more. 

If you need more support, you can call the Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00 and talk to one of our cancer support specialists. We have information about local support groups. You can also talk to other people going through the same thing on our Online Community.

It’s normal to have times when you want to be left alone to sort out your feelings. But if you find you’re avoiding people a lot of the time, then try to talk to your doctor or nurse.

My mind went berserk when I first found out I had cancer – I started to get my affairs in order. But then I met a woman who had been diagnosed with CML eight years ago. She was a star – she completely changed my mind about it. Meeting someone who had been through the same thing was so helpful

Alan


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.

Back to Dealing with your emotions

Feeling alone

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

Managing fear and anxiety

Feeling scared and worried can be a natural reaction to uncertainty. Here are some things that can help.