Take Charge

Coping With Emotions When You Find out You Have Cancer

July 13, 2016

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A cancer diagnosis can rock your world, both physically and emotionally. It might stir up feelings that you’ve never experienced before. For instance, you might feel frightened, angry or uncertain about the road that lies ahead. If you have feelings like these, it’s quite understandable. You might also find that you mentally “shut down,” which makes it difficult for you to listen to, understand and remember what others tell you.

Every individual who is diagnosed with cancer has different feelings and copes with them in different ways. It’s important to do what is best for you, and not to compare yourself with others. With that said, here are some of the emotions that you may be experiencing, along with some possible coping strategies:

  • Fear – Cancer is scary, and many of the associated fears are very real. For instance, you might be apprehensive about the possibility of losing your ability to work, pay your bills, keep your job or take care of your family. But, many other fears about cancer are based on rumors and incorrect information. Therefore, the best way to cope is to be well informed. Learn as much as you can about your condition and how you can take an active role in your treatment. This can help you manage and even overcome some of your fears.
  • Anger – It’s normal to feel angry or resentful about your cancer, your treatment team and even your healthy family members and friends. Oftentimes, these feelings stem from fear, anxiety and helplessness. If you feel this way, you don’t need to pretend that everything is okay. Instead, share your feelings with others. Anger can be positive in that it can motivate you to take necessary actions.
  • Anxiety – You might understandably be worried about what’s happening to your body and your life. Excess worry is known as anxiety, which can cause headaches, loss of appetite, stomach pains, diarrhea, dizziness, fatigue and concentration difficulties. If you have any of these symptoms, you should talk with your physician, who can adjust your treatment, if necessary, and recommend appropriate stress management techniques.
  • Sadness – You might feel overcome by a sense of loss regarding your health and former lifestyle. This is a normal response to any serious illness, and it can take some time to accept the changes that are occurring in your life. Talk with a health care professional if your painful feelings endure or begin to affect your daily life. For instance, if you don’t feel like eating or want to stay in bed all the time, you may be depressed. Depression is a valid medical condition that can be treated.
  • Guilt – You could feel guilty for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you’re worried about being a burden to your family and friends. Maybe you’re ashamed of past lifestyle choices that you believe may have led to your cancer. Or, you may feel embarrassed because you are envious of the good health of others around you. Feelings like these are very common, and it can be helpful to talk through them with a friend, physician, counselor or support group.

There’s no question that a cancer diagnosis can be hard to take. Accepting it, and figuring out what it means for you, will be likely be among the most challenging things you’ve ever done. As you face your own mortality and deal with your cancer’s many demands, you might find that you begin to see the most important aspects of your life with enhanced clarity.

At Moffitt Cancer Center, our multispecialty team of cancer experts includes a variety of supportive care specialists who are available to provide our patients with a full range of physical and emotional support at any point in their cancer journeys. If you’d like to speak with a cancer expert at Moffitt, call 1-888-MOFFITT or complete a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.