The words “you have cancer” can be frightening and overwhelming. Some people experience feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and question whether they know how to deal with these feelings. At times, people may be reluctant to talk to their doctor about their concerns because they don’t want to distract them from the primary goal of treatment.
Emotional needs vary from person to person, depending on age, closeness of family and friends, access to medical care and other factors. For example, a 25-year-old person with a cancer diagnosis has different pressures and responsibilities than a person who is 60. Younger people may experience more confusion over having cancer at an age when they usually feel invincible and none of their friends are ill. On the other hand, an older person may have fewer family members to rely on who can help care for their medical needs.
No matter what our stage in life, cancer takes an emotional toll on the person diagnosed, as well as everyone close to that person. At CancerCare, we work with each individual, offering support that meets each person’s needs and concerns. It’s important to remember that everyone experiences some kind of sadness or helplessness when confronted with cancer—and that many people learn to cope and adapt to these experiences. Remember that there are many things you can do to adjust to the emotional impact of cancer. To help you cope more effectively while undergoing treatment, you could try the following:
Keep track of your feelings. Many people find it helpful to keep a journal or record their emotions through photography, drawing, painting, music or other forms of expression.
Share your feelings with people close to you. Sometimes, caregivers and people with cancer feel as if they are a “burden” to their loved ones by “complaining” about their problems. Remember that you are entitled to every emotion you have. Don’t be afraid to share these emotions with the people close to you.
Seek individual counseling with a professional. You may feel that the diagnosis is yours alone to cope with, and perhaps feel the need to isolate yourself from others. Oncology social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists help you sort through your many complex emotions. CancerCare provides free individual counseling to people with cancer and caregivers in New York and New Jersey as well as case management services across the country.
Join a support group. Support groups provide an environment where someone affected by cancer does not have to explain what they are going through because the other group members will understand. In addition to lessening one’s sense of isolation, support groups can be a source of valuable information. Not surprisingly, members find that sharing resources and coping skills can be highly rewarding, whether on the giving or the receiving end of the transaction. CancerCare provides free, professionally led support groups over the telephone, online and face-to-face.
Tell your doctor and nurse about your feelings. Health care professionals understand that patients are concerned about good quality of life as they go through treatment. Sometimes, people benefit from a referral for counseling or treatment for anxiety or depression.