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.
Why is this happening?
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.
Will there be pain?
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.
Will I die?
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.
Will I have to wait for treatment?
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.
How can I cope?
Each person copes with cancer differently. Time and practice can help you adjust to your new normal.
These tips may help you cope:
- Learn about the type of cancer you have and how it is treated. Getting involved can help give you a sense of control over what’s happening.
- Express your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend or family member, keep a journal or blog or express yourself through music, painting or drawing.
- Take care of yourself. Take time to do something you enjoy every day. This might be as simple as spending time with a special friend, preparing your favourite meal or listening to your favourite music.
- Exercise if you feel up to it and your doctor agrees that it’s okay.
- Reach out to others. Friends, family or a support group can help you feel that you’re not alone on your cancer journey.
- Try to keep a positive attitude. Staying hopeful can improve the quality of your life through your cancer journey. Being positive can be different for different people. It does not mean you have to be happy and cheerful all the time. It is positive to just be aware and accept your feelings, even if you are worried, depressed or angry.
Seeing my sister Erin – a young mother – struggle with the emotional blow and then the physical toll of cancer treatment made me want to do something to help women feel confident.
What’s the lifetime risk of getting cancer?
The latest Canadian Cancer Statistics report shows about half of Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.