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About your emotions and cancer

Coping with cancer

This page is about understanding how cancer can affect your emotions. There is information about


There's no right or wrong

You may find that you have different feelings from other people with cancer. This doesn't mean that you aren't coping with your illness. When you are trying to come to terms with an illness there is no right or wrong way to feel. Everyone is different and you will deal with things in your own way. So you can take what you need to help you from this section. Ignore anything that doesn’t seem to apply to you or to help.


How you may feel when you are diagnosed

Being diagnosed with cancer is likely to bring up many emotions. Most people feel shocked when they are told they have cancer, and don't know what to think. You may be confused, upset and worried.

Your feelings may not all be negative 

        "When I was told I had cancer after my operation, I was relieved. 
          I had been under the hospital for 18 months without being diagnosed. 
          Knowing was better than not knowing."

At times, it may feel like an emotional roller coaster. One day you might be quite positive and able to cope. But the next day you could feel so sad and anxious that coping might not seem so easy. All these feelings are completely natural.


Your emotions during and after treatment

People diagnosed with cancer and going through treatment often feel negative. At times, you may think you will never feel well again. Many questions may arise, such as

  • Will I ever feel happy again?
  • Am I going to die?
  • Why has this happened to me?
  • Will I be able to get myself together and enjoy the things that I used to – even my husband or children can't seem to make me feel happy any more
  • People say I must be positive - am I harming myself when I feel so low?

All these thoughts, feelings and questions are very natural and completely understandable. 

Your family and friends may expect you to feel back to normal once your treatment finishes. But many people with cancer find that this is the time when the emotional impact of their diagnosis hits them and they need more support. You may miss the support from the doctors and nurses at the hospital. And some people say they feel a bit abandoned as they no longer belong to their hospital team in the way that they did when they were having the cancer treatment. 


Your feelings when you have advanced cancer

If your cancer is very advanced and you are facing the possibility of dying, all these feelings are likely to be more intense. They will take on a different meaning. There is information on coping with the news your illness is terminal in our section about death and dying.


Understanding your feelings

Having negative feelings can be very draining for you and the people around you. You might find that family and friends don’t understand. Or they may try to tell you how you should feel. This can put a big strain on your close relationships.


Asking for help

Don’t feel you are being weak by asking for help or letting someone know how awful you feel. It is not a weakness. Talking about how you feel is more likely to help you and the people around you than staying silent.

Doctors and nurses in cancer care are very aware of the range of reactions people can have to cancer. There may also be counsellors or psychologists in the cancer team at your centre. They can help you through difficult, emotional times after your diagnosis, during treatment and afterwards. They will be ready to listen to you, give you support, and suggest ways to help you feel more positive about things.

It is also worth finding out what support is available at your local hospice. Many hospices offer all sorts of help to people with advanced cancer. This includes complementary therapies, counselling, and short stays to give you and your family a break (respite care).

In this section there is information about managing your emotions and advice about who to talk to.

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Updated: 7 November 2012