Coping with a cancer diagnosis

Older woman looking concerned

It’s normal to feel upset when you are told that you have cancer. You are likely to experience a range of emotions throughout your diagnosis, treatment and recovery. These emotions or feelings are to be expected.

Reactions often differ from person to person and there is no right or wrong way to feel. You may feel:

  • Shock and disbelief
  • Fear and uncertainty
  • Loss of control
  • Sorrow and sadness
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Blame and guilt
  • Withdrawal and isolation

Sometimes a cancer diagnosis can bring greater distress and can cause anxiety and depression. Read more about anxiety and depression. 

Feeling very up and down, as if you are on a roller-coaster ride, does not mean you are not coping. Understanding your feelings and emotions can help you learn to cope better. You may also feel more in control of your illness. It can take time to come to terms with your emotions, but most people learn to cope. 

Please see our Understanding the Emotional Effects of Cancer booklet for more information on the feelings. It may feel hard to believe, but a cancer journey can bring positive feelings too. You may experience great love, affection, closeness or gratitude. Experiencing cancer can even bring about personal growth and knowledge.

Understanding the Emotional Effects of Cancer booklet
Understanding the Emotional Effects of Cancer - A guide for cancer patients booklet
This booklet has been written to help you understand more about the emotional effects of cancer. This booklet is for anyone affected by cancer.

How do I cope with negative feelings?

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 try to have realistic expectations.

There are many ways to help you cope with your emotions and anxieties. This can include a combination of talking, getting helpful information, trying relaxation techniques and doing other things that make you feel good.

There are support groups and cancer support services around the country that can offer a range of services such as information, counselling, group therapy and complementary therapies.

Talking is one of the best cures when you are anxious, but it can be hard to do. You may feel awkward or embarrassed discussing how you really feel. Talking to a good listener can help, such as your partner, a close friend or relative.

Please see our booklet Who Can Ever Understand? – Talking about your cancer for more information on talking about your cancer. For some, religion and spiritual beliefs – even peaceful meditation – can bring a lot of comfort.

Talking therapy

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 can really help if you have anxiety and depression. It’s important to stick with the talking therapy for a least a few weeks. If you feel that it isn’t helping, talk to your therapist or doctor about trying something else.

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.

Getting emotional support

Cancer doesn’t just affect your body. It can have a big impact on your thoughts and feelings. Getting emotional support can make a huge difference. 

Find out about cancer support services in your area

Most provide a range of helpful services like counselling, complementary therapies, exercise programmes and other activities. They can also give you practical advice and support. Read more about cancer support services.

Join a support or educational group

You may find it very reassuring to talk to other people who are in a similar situation and facing the same challenges. Many cancer support centres have activities and groups where you can meet other people affected by cancer.

Ask about psycho-oncology services at the hospital

Hospital psycho-oncology services give cancer patients emotional and psychological support to help them cope. Your doctor, specialist nurse or medical social worker can refer you to psycho-oncology support services.

Survivor Support

Survivor Support is the Irish Cancer Society’s one-to-one support programme. You can be put in contact with a trained volunteer who has dealt with a cancer diagnosis. Volunteers give support, practical information and reassurance.

Call 1800 200 700 for more information or visit a Daffodil Centre.

Get online support

Special websites called online communities let you write questions, share stories, and give and receive advice and support.

Join the Irish Cancer Society online community.

Talk things through

It can be a great weight off your mind to share your feelings and worries. You could talk to a friend or family member if you feel comfortable doing so.

You could also speak to the medical social worker at the hospital or to one of our cancer nurses. Or find out about free 1-to-1 counselling funded by the Irish Cancer Society.

Seek spiritual support

For some people spiritual and religious beliefs can bring comfort and hope.

Practices such as prayer or meditation may help you to focus on what has value and meaning in your life.

If you need more information or help with finding support, call our Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700 or drop into a Daffodil Centre.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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