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Support when you have pain

Getting support when you have cancer pain can be very helpful. It’s normal to feel upset, frightened or even depressed, but there are people who can help.

Why you might need support

Getting medical help for your pain is very important because cancer pain can be well controlled for most people.

The best thing you can do is tell your doctors and specialist nurses that you’re in pain. They are there to support you and help your pain be more controlled. Let them know exactly how you feel. This will help them to plan the best pain management for you.

You can also benefit from emotional and psychological support. Having very strong emotions about your cancer and the pain is normal and to be expected. You might feel:

  • angry that you have to suffer
  • upset that your family is seeing you in pain
  • that you want to be left alone to deal with your own pain
  • that no one else can know how bad you feel
  • anxious that the pain may never go away
  • worried that you will never be able to do everyday things again without being in pain

You might feel depressed, hopeless or frightened that your pain means your cancer is growing and that this means you might die.

There is no right or wrong way to feel. These feelings are part of a process that many people with cancer pain go through. Most people will have some of these feelings.

Once your pain has been relieved, many of these feelings could disappear. You might be able to eat and sleep better and enjoy hobbies, or spend time with friends and family again.

Depression

Depression is common in people who have pain. It’s also quite common for people with cancer to feel depressed.

You might feel hopeless if you are depressed and feel you don't want to do anything. You might not be able to sleep or not want to get up in the morning. Your appetite may go, too.

In extreme cases you can feel suicidal. Your pain may feel so bad that you feel it is not worth living any more.

Your pain will feel worse if you are depressed. This is because the chemicals your body produces when you're depressed also worsen the feeling of pain. Depression is an illness that can cause chemical and physical changes in the body.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you think that you’re depressed, so you can get help and treatment. They may suggest that you see a doctor trained in treating depression.

Talking about pain

Talking about your pain with your loved ones could help you too.

Some people find it difficult to talk about these things. You might be frightened that your family won’t cope with hearing how you are really feeling. Or maybe you worry that they'll be frightened by how bad your pain makes you feel.

Sharing worries almost always helps. Sometimes it's enough just to have your family listen to you. They don't need to give you advice. Just knowing they are there to share things with can help you to deal with the pain.

You might have a specialist palliative care nurse you can talk to. These nurses are trained in cancer and pain control, and will be able to offer you support and advice.

In a hospice, there could be counsellors that you can talk to. Your GP could be another good source of help and support.

Psychological and practical help

With chronic pain, it can really help to see someone trained in psychological medicine. This might be a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

Don't feel that your doctor thinks you're overreacting if they suggest this. And don't feel they think your pain is not real. It's not unusual for people with cancer or chronic pain to see these specialists. They can help you feel more in control of the situation and better able to cope.

A psychiatrist might prescribe some anti depressants for you. Again, don't feel worried that this is a sign that you are overreacting. Anti depressants can stop the body making chemicals that increase pain. Also anti depressants, at a different dose, can be prescribed to treat nerve pain. 

You might want to talk to someone who will listen to your worries, but is not involved in your daily care. The cancer information services listed on our general cancer organisations page can tell you more about:

  • counselling
  • the services available in your area
  • cancer support groups

Some people might feel more comfortable speaking to a religious or spiritual leader, such as a hospital chaplain, iman, priest or rabbi. Hospital social workers can also be a support in helping sort out worrying practical issues, financial problems or getting help at home.

The main thing is that you don't feel alone. Even if you don't have close family and friends around to help you, other people can help. Let your specialist nurse or doctor know if you need support.