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A cancer diagnosis can affect much more than the physical body. It can also affect emotions and relationships. Your emotions can be very strong, conflicting or disturbing. They may come and go quickly, and they may change often. For many people, life is not the same after a cancer diagnosis.
People respond to a diagnosis in different ways. You may have many questions when you first find out that you have cancer. You may feel shocked, overwhelmed, devastated, numb, afraid or angry, or you may not believe it.
A cancer diagnosis can raise fears. You may worry about death, changes to your body, painful treatments or feeling sick. You may also worry about how your friends and family will react and how to cope with day-to-day tasks, work or finances.
Some people feel alone, even if friends and family are with them. Others feel like they’re watching things happen to someone else. Some people find it hard to understand what the doctor is telling them, and they need to be told the same information many times.
All of these responses are normal. It’s also normal for similar feelings and fears to come up a number of times throughout your cancer journey.
It’s normal to wonder why you or someone you care for has cancer. No one knows why. Cancer is a complex disease, and it is often impossible to know why things happen the way they do. You may struggle with this throughout your cancer journey.
It might help to remember that knowing “why” will not change the course of the illness. And continuing to wonder may get in the way of your ability to cope. Your valuable energy could be better used to help you and your family deal with the disease. Try to focus on the present and how to best deal with the situation ahead. If you’re having trouble with this, it may help to talk to a counsellor or someone on your healthcare team.
Almost everyone worries that cancer or cancer treatment will be painful. While some people do experience pain, they may have pain only once in a while. Some people don’t have any pain at all. There are many ways to control and prevent pain, so living with cancer does not have to mean living with pain. If you are worried about pain, or if you are in pain, tell someone on your healthcare team. They are there to help you.
Feeling anxious or sad can sometimes make you more sensitive to pain or make pain seem worse. Learning to cope with these emotions may help lessen your pain and improve your mood. Finding ways to manage pain may make it easier to cope with your emotions.
When first diagnosed, many people with cancer and their families think about the possibility of dying of cancer. This is a normal reaction. These kinds of thoughts can be overwhelming, especially at first. Over time, as the reality of day-to-day life with the disease settles in, many people begin to think instead about living with cancer. This change of focus can help you find the strength and resources to cope with the challenges of the disease.
Once you’ve been diagnosed, it’s normal to feel that treatment should start right away. You may worry that extra tests and appointments will take too much time. You may feel like you need to make a decision about treatment right away.
Waiting for treatment to start isn’t easy. Your healthcare team can usually give some idea of how long the tests will take. In most cases, there is time to gather information, talk with your healthcare team and make decisions about which treatment is best for you.
Each person copes with cancer differently. Time and practice can help you adjust to your new normal.
These tips may help you cope:
The Canadian Cancer Society’s Community Services Locator helps cancer patients and their families find the services and programs they need in their community.