What goes through a person’s mind after hearing those dreaded words: “I am sorry, but you have cancer”? The immense tide of feelings that someone will experience after being diagnosed with cancer has been described as an emotional rollercoaster. Immediately following diagnosis, it can be hard to get your bearing. You might not know what to think about the cancer itself, how to get treatment, or how to begin to talk with loved ones. The raw emotion can be one of the toughest aspects of living with cancer, but there are ways to cope. Let’s start by looking at some of the more common emotions people feel after being diagnosed. Then we can look at how best to manage them.
I am afraid …
Fear is common among cancer patients. People worry about what lies ahead of them, what will happen to their bodies as a result of treatment, and death itself. As many psychologists can tell you, fear often stems from the unknown. People fear that which they do not fully understand, but we can combat this with knowledge.
One thing people need to realize is that cancer is not an automatic death sentence. Through various scientific discoveries and cancer clinical trials, we are advancing new methods of treatment every year. There are millions of cancer survivors alive today.
This can’t be happening to me!
A diagnosis ranks as one of the most upsetting points during the cancer experience. Feelings of anxiety are normal, and often persist throughout the treatment process. It’s not unusual to experience denial after being diagnosed. It can be difficult to come to grips with the news.
During this period, you may not be able to fully perceive your situation or think about what’s next. Over time you will develop the skills you need to cope. This will come as you learn more about the cancer and its effects, and as you spend time with people who understand what you are experiencing and can coach you through it.
Frustration and anger
Along with fear and anxiety, cancer patients often struggle with anger. This anger can run deep, and it can be hard to adequately express. People don’t typically plan for something like this, so a cancer diagnosis often requires changing plans or perhaps letting go of some dreams. It may affect your job and relationships.
The key is learning how to express these frustrations in a positive way. You may be wondering how that is possible, but rest assured that it is. Many cancer patients have found the answer through a counselor, a support group, even a friend.
In fact, today there are many outlets, such as online chat rooms, where cancer patients can vent their frustrations and receive helpful feedback, allowing them to deal with their anger constructively. This helps to guard against misplaced anger, which can sometimes be directed toward loved ones.
Dealing with depression
The depression that often follows diagnosis is different from the chronic mental depression that affects many other people. The term used to describe what cancer patients experience is called reactive depression, and it is a natural psychological response to immense shock. It’s important to realize that the way you are feeling is normal.
Take some time to allow yourself to get used to the feeling that accompanies a loss of control or self-image. Once you have settled in, try to take steps to become active in your cancer treatment plan. Patients who refuse to feel helpless often do much better in the long run because the battle against cancer is as much a mental struggle as it is a physical one. However, you should never feel like you need to do this on your own. Counselors and other support groups can help guide you through any depression.
Our emotions are a part of what makes us human. However, we can let them get the best of us at times. Feeling scared, anxious, sad, or just plain angry is part of the emotional distress caused by cancer. Remember that it is normal to feel these things, but you don’t have to deal with them alone. Help is available in a variety of forms.
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