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Coping with Cancer

Cancer not only affects your physical health, it affects your mental wellbeing as well. It can bring up an array of feelings that you may not be used to dealing with. It may also make existing feelings seem more extreme. This is true whether you are currently receiving treatment, finished with the treatment, or looking after a friend or family member going through cancer. These feelings are all perfectly normal.

A range of feelings crop up when you are first diagnosed with Cancer and whilst receiving treatment for cancer.

You feel Overwhelmed

When you first receive the news that you have cancer, you may feel as if your life is out of control. This could be because:

  • You wonder if you're going to live.

  • Your day to day life is disrupted by doctor visits and treatments.

  • You don't understand the medical terms and what is going on inside your body.

  • You feel like you can't do the things you enjoy.

  • You feel helpless and lonely.

  • You worry about your family and how they are going to cope.

  • You may not be able to work.

Even if you feel out of control, there are ways you can take control. It may help you learn as much as you can about your cancer. The more you know, the more in control you'll feel. So it is important to ask the doctor lots of questions. Do not google information as there is a lot of generic stuff out there that may not be relevant in your case.

If you feel that you have the energy, try keeping yourself busy so your mind does not overthink things.


When the diagnosis first comes, you may have had trouble believing or accepting the fact that you have cancer. This is called denial. You may say things like “ This can’t” be true” , It’s not possible”, “how can this happen to me” . It important to take you time out to understand that this could have happened to anyone. You have not done anything that has given you the Cancer.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was in a state of denial for nearly 4 to 6 weeks when all the other emotions that I am going to list below started kicking in.

Anger, Fear and Worry

Anger, fear and worry all come together. You start asking yourself things like “ Why me”, “What did I do to get cancer” . You feel angry and may get irritable.

Anger often is accompanied by and comes with feelings like fear, panic, frustration, anxiety, helplessness and worry.

If you feel angry, its ok. Talk to your family and friends about it. They will understand. If you cannot speak to any near and dear ones please seek help and speak to a professional. And know that anger can be helpful in that it may motivate you to take action.

It is a scary time when you first receive the diagnosis. You may be afraid or worried about:

  • Being in pain, either from the cancer or the treatment.

  • Feeling sick or looking different as a result of your treatment

  • Taking care of your family

  • Paying your bills

  • Keeping your job

  • Dying

Some fears about and around cancer may based on rumours, and or wrong information. It is important that you speak to your team of doctors/nurses and get the facts. What may be true for others may not be true for you. Talking to the team caring for you will be beneficial in coping with your fears and worries. Most people feel better when they have all the accurate information. They feel less worried and know what to expect. Learning about your cancer and understanding what you can do and being an active partner in your care is really important. Some studies have suggested that people who are well-informed about their illness and treatment are more likely to follow their treatment plans and recover from cancer more quickly than those who are not.

Stress and Anxiety

It is natural to get stressed and anxious both during and after treatment. Going through cancer requires some life changes. This could mean that you cannot do some of the things that you could do earlier and requires you to do things that may be necessary to cope for example you may be sleeping a lot, or may not be able to go to work. This can cause you to get anxious and make you worry and feel tense and stressed. You may notice that:

  • Your heart is beating faster.

  • You have headaches or muscle pains.

  • You may not feel like eating

  • You may start comfort eating.

  • You feel nauseous

  • You feel shaky, weak, or dizzy.

  • You have a tight feeling in your throat and chest.

  • You may sleep too much or may not get much sleep.

  • You may find it hard to concentrate.

If you have any of these feelings, talk to your doctor. Though they are common signs of stress, you want to make sure these are not due to any medication or treatment you are taking.

Stress can keep your body from healing as well as it should. Although Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a relatively new study it is looking into the effect of the mind on health and resistance to disease. It is the study of the interaction between psychological processes in the nervous and immune systems of the human body. Therefore, being or feeling stressed can make the healing process longer.

If you're worried about your stress, speak to your GP and see a professional for you to talk to. You could also take a class that teaches ways to deal with stress. The key is to find ways to control your stress and not to let it control you.

Sadness and Depression

Felling sad and depressed during cancer treatment can be normal. Many people with cancer feel sad. They feel a sense of loss, they feel they have lost control on life. Even after treatment is finished you may still feel sad. This is a normal response to any serious illness. It may take time for you to work through and accept all the changes that are taking place in your life.

When you feel sad, you may have less energy, feel tired and not want to do things you enjoy doing. For some people, these feelings go away or lessen over time. But for others, these emotions can become stronger. The painful feelings don't get any better, and they get in the way of daily life. This can cause you to start feeling depressed.

If you feel that you are getting depressed then please seek professional advice.

Depression can be treated. Below are common signs of depression.

Emotional signs of Depression

  • Feelings of sadness that don't go away

  • Feeling emotionally numb

  • Feeling anxious all the time

  • Having a sense of guilt

  • Feeling unworthy

  • Feeling helpless or hopeless, as if life has no meaning

  • Feeling short-tempered, moody

  • Finding it hard to concentrate

  • Crying for long periods of time or many times each day

  • Focusing on worries and problems

  • Having no interest in the hobbies and activities you used to enjoy

  • Finding it hard to enjoy everyday things, such as food or being with family and friends

  • Thinking about hurting yourself

  • Thoughts about killing yourself

Physical Signs of Depression

  • Unintended weight gain or loss not due to illness or treatment

  • Sleep problems, such as not being able to sleep, having nightmares, or sleeping too much

  • Increased heart rate

  • Dry mouth

  • Changes in your energy level

  • Feeling Fatigued all the time.

  • Headaches, other aches and pains

If your doctor thinks that you are suffering from depression, then they may refer you to other experts. Please at no point in this journey feel that you have to deal with everything by yourself. There is a lot of support out there. Macmillan Don't feel that you should have to control these feelings on your own. Getting the help you need is important for your life and your health.

Feeling Lonely

Feeling Lonely is very common when you are getting treated for Cancer. This may be for a number of reasons-

  • Friends sometimes have a hard time dealing with cancer and may not visit or call you.

  • You may feel unwell and find it hard to take part in the activities you used to enjoy.

  • Sometimes, even when you are with people, you may feel that no one understands what you are going through.

This may continue even after you have finished the treatment. You may miss the support you got from your health care team.

Many people have a sense that their safety net has been pulled away, and they are not getting attention. It is quite common to still feel cut off from certain friends or family members. Some of them may think that now that treatment is over, you will be back to normal soon, even though this may not be true. Others may want to help but don’t know how.

You can seek emotional support in different ways. It could help you to talk to other people who have cancer or to join a support group. Or seek the help of a professional. Do what feels right for you.

Bring back Hope into your life

It may take time to accept the fact that you have cancer, but once you accept it things get better as you develop a sense of hope.

There are many reasons to feel hopeful.

Millions of people who have had cancer are alive today. Your chances of living with cancer and living beyond it are better now than they have ever been before. And many people with cancer can lead active lives, even whilst receiving treatment.

Some doctors think that hope may help your body deal with cancer. So, scientists are studying whether a hopeful outlook and positive attitude helps people feel better. Hope brings about and focusses the mind on positive feelings .

Here are some ways you can build your sense of hope:

  • Plan your days and have a routine.

  • Don't limit the things you do just because you have cancer.

  • Look for reasons to have hope. If it helps, write them down or talk to others about them.

  • Spend time doing things that help you relax.

  • Join a Cancer Group where people support each other and you will find a lot of positivity being shared.

Ways to Cope with Your Emotions

  • Express Your Feelings

  • Look for the Positive

  • Don't Blame Yourself for Your Cancer

  • Don't Try to Be Upbeat If You're Not

  • You Choose When to Talk about Your Cancer

  • Find Ways to Help Yourself Relax

  • Be as Active as You Can

  • Look for Things You Enjoy

  • Look at What You Can Control

I hope that you will find this article useful.

I have experienced all of the above myself. I was diagnosed with Sarcoma, a rare type of bone and soft tissue cancer and received treatment for it. I am now in remission.

I can support you through your cancer journey. Please feel free to contact me for information of how I can help.

Namita Bhatia

Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist

07305 595 603


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