Cancer and cancer treatment do not merely affect your physical condition but evoke a wide range of feelings that you may not be accustomed to dealing with. You may experience intense emotions that change daily, hourly, or even minute to minute. We hope that by elaborating on some common emotions, you can begin to better understand yourself or your loved one who is battling cancer and recognize that you are able to overcome the challenges that lie ahead.
You may have trouble believing or accepting the news of a cancer diagnosis. It seems surreal that this is happening to you. This is called denial, and denial is not exactly a bad thing. Denial allows your mind some room to adjust to your diagnosis. Denial only becomes a problem if it prevents you from seeking treatment. In most people, the sense of denial evaporates the moment treatment starts. This is also true for caregivers.
A cancer diagnosis may bring about a surge of fear –Patients reflexively fear dying from their condition. This fear is real and can be debilitating. Though it is impossible to predict the longevity of a patient before therapy, the fear experienced can be addressed and resolved by understanding facts, having an active awareness of your treatment plans, and finding solutions to ease possible discomfort. Empower yourself by dialoguing with your doctors and nurses and speaking to a counsellor if you feel overwhelmed or helpless.
Also high on the list would be the fear of unavoidable and prolonged periods of suffering and disability. Fortunately, advances in medical science can assure you that these conditions may be addressed; symptoms or side effects of cancer and cancer treatment can be managed. Pain can be alleviated so please inform your doctors or nurses and do not suffer in silence.
At the core of your struggle, it truly helps to experience that you are not alone. Surround yourself with support, love and knowledge; gradually, you will develop the basic confidence and peace to face your fears.
A note of caution: It may be important to discern the people whom you want to share your condition with. Certain well-meaning friends may be fearful themselves and telling and dealing with them can drain your emotional energy.
People with cancer often feel angry and resentful. This anger may be targeted at oneself, caregivers, healthy friends or healthcare providers. Some who are religious may even feel angry with God. Anger often comes from feelings that are hard to show, such as fear, panic, frustration, anxiety, or helplessness.
Anger demands to be felt and the expression of anger is necessary and healthy. If you feel angry, you don't have to pretend that everything is okay. Do remember that anger needs to be resolved or it may zap energy that is best directed at coping and living life fruitfully. The first step to processing anger is having an awareness of it and not displacing the anger, for example, showing aggression to people or in situations that have little or no connection to the issues that are weighing you down.
Stress and anxiety are common conditions experienced by persons undergoing major life changes and uncertainties. These are characterized by emotional and physiological effects such as difficulties in concentrating, heart palpitations, headaches, body aches, insomnia and drastic changes in appetite.
Speak to your doctor if you feel any signs of stress as it is important to ensure that these are not caused by medicines consumed or by treatment. Stress is also detrimental to the healing process. Your doctor may teach you techniques in stress management or refer you to resources or a counsellor to speak to. The key is finding methods to keep stress levels in check.
Many people with cancer feel sad. They grieve for the loss of their health, and the life they had before they learned they had the disease. Some also continue to feel sad after treatment completion. You are encouraged to process the sadness especially if it persists or grows in intensity and gets in the way of daily life. This may be symptoms of a medical condition called depression. For some, cancer treatment may have contributed to this problem by changing the way the brain works. Speak to your oncologist who may prescribe medications or refer you to a psychiatrist or counsellor.
Many people with cancer experience guilt. Some blame themselves for upsetting their loved ones, or worry that have become burdensome. Others may feel jealous of healthy friends and feel ashamed for their negativity. Some blame their lifestyle choices that they believe have caused the cancer. These are common ruminations and if you find yourself overwhelmed with such thoughts, do let your doctor know. You may consider joining a cancer support group or seeking help from a counsellor.
Cancer patients may feel lonely; a loss of connection from the person they once were and the life they once knew. This loss of connection may be physical – due to home/hospital ward confinement or psychosocial – caused by attitudes and beliefs that the patient or those around him adopt. The life-threatening nature of cancer brings a heightened awareness to the alone-ness of death. Sometimes patients retreat inwards, withdrawing interactions with others by allowing grief and feelings of self-pity to consume them. Fortunately, there are ways to fight loneliness. If you feel so, do consider joining supportive programs to befriend fellow patients and journey with them. Don’t be fearful of being vulnerable; open up your innermost fears to the ones you are closest to or consider speaking to your nurse or counsellor.
CanHOPE’s professional allied health team is available to help you and your loved ones manage a cancer diagnosis. Our services include dietary counselling, psycho-social counselling support, palliative care support, patient and caregiver support groups and cancer-education workshops. To find out more, visit us online at www.canhope.org.