About your emotions and cancer

You are likely to feel a range of emotions when diagnosed with cancer. These may change over time, during treatment and when treatment has finished. 

You might find that you have different feelings from other people with cancer.

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.

Some of the information in this section might be helpful, but not everything will apply to you.

How you might feel when you are diagnosed

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

But 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 positive and able to cope, another sad and anxious and finding coping hard. All these feelings are completely natural.

Your emotions during and after treatment

You might feel negative and 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?
  • What if it comes back ?
  • 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 might 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 might miss the support from the doctors and nurses at the hospital. Some people say they feel a bit abandoned as they see their hospital team less frequently than before. 

Your feelings when you have advanced cancer

Your feelings are likely to be more intense if your cancer is very advanced and you are facing the possibility of dying. And they will take on a different meaning. 

If you are having negative feelings they 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.

Getting help and support can be helpful for you all.

Asking for help

Letting someone know how awful you feel and asking for help 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 you might have to cancer.

Counsellors and psychologists

You may have 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 manage your emotions.

There are charities providing support as well as counsellors and psychotherapists in private practice with experience of cancer.

Support from your local hospice

Find 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
  • short stays to give you and your family a break (respite care)