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Coping

You might have a number of different feelings when you're told you have cancer. You may feel shocked and upset. You might also feel:

  • numb
  • frightened and uncertain
  • confused
  • angry and resentful
  • guilty

You may have some or all of these feelings. Or you might feel totally different. Everyone reacts in their own way. Sometimes it's hard to take in the fact that you have cancer at all.

Experiencing different feelings is a natural part of coming to terms with cancer. All sorts of feelings are likely to come and go.

Counselling can help you to cope better with the difficulties you’ll face. It can help to reduce your stress and improve your quality of life.

Helping yourself

You may be more able to cope and make decisions if you have information about your type of cancer and its treatment. Information helps you to know what to expect.

Taking in information can be difficult, especially when you have just been diagnosed. Make a list of questions before you see your doctor. Take someone with you to remind you what you want to ask and help remember the answers.

Ask your doctors and nurses to explain things again if you need them to.

Remember that you don’t have to sort everything out at once. It might take some time to deal with each issue. Ask for help if you need it.

Talking to other people

Talking to your friends and relatives about your cancer can help and support you. But some people are scared of the emotions this could bring up and won’t want to talk. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation.

It can strain relationships if your family or friends don't want to talk. But talking can help increase trust and support between you and them.

Help your family and friends by letting them know if you would like to talk about what’s happening and how you feel.

You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family. We have cancer information nurses you can call on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Or you may prefer to see a counsellor.

Specialist nurses can help you if you’re finding it difficult to cope or if you have any problems. They can get you the help you need. They can also give you information.

Dietitians can help you with any eating problems you have. These might include difficulty eating or swallowing.  

Support groups

NHS Choices has a service that tells you about local information and support.

Mouth Cancer Foundation is a charity that supports people affected by head and neck cancer. Its website has information about mouth, throat and other head and neck cancers. The website also has a forum and information on local support groups.

How cancer can affect you physically

You might also have to come to terms with physical changes caused by your cancer and its treatment. This might include a change in your appearance.

These changes vary depending on which salivary gland is affected and the treatment you have.

You might also have changes to how you eat and drink. This is usually temporary but can be difficult to cope with.

Relationships and sex

The physical and emotional changes you have might affect your relationships and sex life. There are things that you can do to manage this.

Coping practically

Practical things you and your family might need to cope with include:

  • money matters
  • financial support, such as benefits, sick pay and grants
  • work issues
  • childcare

Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse to find out who can help. Getting help early with these things can mean that they don’t become a big issue later.

Last reviewed: 
31 Oct 2019
  • Improving supportive and palliative care for adults with cancer
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2004

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley - Blackwell, 2015

  • Management of Salivary Gland Tumours: United Kingdom National Multidisciplinary Guidelines

    S Sood and others

    The Journal of Laryngology and Otology, 2016. Volume 130, Supplement 2