To speak to a specialist cancer nurse,
freefone the National Cancer Helpline
1800 200 700
Mon—Thurs 9am—7pm Fri 9am—5pm
This video talks about what it feels like to have cancer and where you can get support. The information in this video was correct as of 1st August 2012.
It is normal to feel upset when told you have a cancer. You are likely to experience a range of emotions throughout your diagnosis, treatment and recovery. These emotions or feelings are normal and to be expected. It does not mean that you are not coping. By recognising the feelings and emotions you are having, you can learn to cope better. It will also make you feel more in control of your illness. It can take some time to come to terms with your emotions but it will happen in time. Reactions often differ from person to person. In fact, there is no right or wrong way to feel. There is also no set time to have one particular emotion or not.
You can feel:
Sometimes a cancer diagnosis can bring greater distress and can cause anxiety and depression.
Please see our Understanding the Emotional Effects of Cancer (pdf 1.59MB) booklet for more information on the feelings. Remember sometimes a cancer journey can bring positive feelings too. You may experience great love, affection, closeness or gratitude. The experience of cancer can even bring about personal growth and knowledge.
Your emotions and well-being are just as important as your physical health. Remember there is no right or wrong way to cope. Give yourself time to adapt and be patient. Try not to expect too much too soon and do have realistic expectations.
There are many ways to help you cope with your emotions and anxieties. This can include a combination of talking, getting information, relaxation techniques and doing things that make you feel good. There are support groups or centres around the country that may be very helpful and provide support, counselling, group therapy or complementary therapies.
Talking is one of the best cures when you are anxious. Sometimes it is not so easy to talk. You may feel awkward or embarrassed discussing your feelings and emotions. Talking to a good listener can help, such as your partner, a close friend or relative. Religion and spiritual support can be a comfort too and very useful.
Talking openly about your feelings and emotions can be a huge help. There are many types of talking therapy available, such as psychotherapy and counselling. These have been shown to have benefits if you have anxiety and depression. It is important to stick with the talking therapy for a least a few weeks. Then if you feel that it is not helping, talk to your therapist or doctor about it, as a different approach may work.
The road to healing and recovery is a personal one and you will learn many new things about yourself along the way. With the help of family, friends and the healthcare team, you can achieve a sense of physical and mental well-being over time.
Anxiety is a natural response to a stressful situation, such as cancer. Anxiety can sometimes get worse and you may feel unable to cope. This can affect your body in many ways, such as physical, psychological and behavioural.
Some of the physical effects can be:
The psychological effects of anxiety can be:
Anxiety can also cause you to behave or act in a certain way, such as:
Sometimes it is hard to know if anxiety or your treatment is causing some of these side-effects. For example, fatigue or extreme tiredness is a common problem for people undergoing cancer treatment. Fatigue is also common in those with anxiety and depression. Do talk to your doctor or nurse if your energy levels are low, as he or she might identify the reason for your fatigue.
At times you may feel low and not your usual self. If these feelings are present for several weeks, it may be a sign of depression. Depression can sometimes develop slowly into a sense of hopelessness.
Depression is more than just feeling sad and blue. It is a significant medical condition that affects thoughts, feelings and your ability to function in everyday life. It can occur at any age and is more common than you might think.
Your chance of developing depression depends on a number of factors. These include experiencing a life stress, the ability to cope with it and being vulnerable. With cancer, you can be vulnerable if you have a:
It is important to remember that depression can be successfully treated. First, there are some things you can do yourself called self-help strategies. These include keeping an open mind, keeping a diary, avoiding boredom, taking exercise, talking things through either with a close friend or family member, or joining a self-help group or support group.
There are other ways of self-help such as relaxation, visualisation or meditation. Sometimes other complementary therapies such as hypnotherapy, aromatherapy or reflexology can be helpful too. Please see our Understanding Cancer and Complementary Therapies (pdf 1.41MB) booklet for more information on these therapies.
For more information on counselling or support groups in your area, call the National Cancer Helpline on 1800 200 70.
Depending on the severity of your anxiety and depression, you may need professional help. There are many members of the wider healthcare team who may be able to help you cope with your feelings and emotions. These include your oncologist or clinical nurse specialist, a counsellor, clinical psychologist, psychiatrist or psychotherapist.
Your doctor might also suggest antidepressant therapy. Often a course of antidepressants for up to 6 months can be very helpful.
A cancer diagnosis can affect an entire family. It can bring changes that may be either small or great. Even so, it is best to keep family life as normal as possible. Being honest with your family really helps too. It is helpful if you or your partner tells your children about your cancer diagnosis. How much you actually tell children will depend on their age and level of maturity. Very young children do not understand illness and need a simple reason why their parent or friend is sick and has to go to hospital regularly. Most children over 10 years of age can take in fairly full explanations of why you are sick.
During your illness, your children may experience a range of emotions from fear and guilt to loneliness and isolation. Reassure them that your illness is not their fault. Even if they show it or not, children may feel that they are somehow to blame.
By having an open approach, it can bring you a sense of relief too. Please see our Talking to Children about Cancer: A Guide for Parents (pdf 1.31MB) for more information.
Surviving cancer brings its own issues too. Once your treatment is over and you have survived cancer, you may have other fears and emotions. For example:
Do talk to your doctor or nurse about these feelings. Joining a support group or visiting a support centre can help to ease these fears and emotions.
There are many people ready to help you and your family throughout treatment and afterwards:
There are many cancer support centres and voluntary groups around the country. If you feel they could help you and your family, call the National Cancer Helpline on 1800 200 700 . The Helpline nurses can give you more information on counselling or support groups in your area.