Your Feelings: Learning You Have Cancer
Summing Up: Learning You Have Cancer
You will have many
feelings after you learn that you have cancer. These feelings can change
from day to day, hour to hour, or even minute to minute.
Some of the feelings
you may go through include:
All these feelings are
Feeling hopeful is also
normal. No one is cheerful all the time, but while you are dealing with
cancer, hope can be an important part of your life.
"I heard the doctor say, 'I'm sorry; the test results show that you have
cancer.' I heard nothing else. My mind went blank, and then I kept thinking,
'No, there must be some mistake.'"
Learning that you have cancer
can come as a shock. How did you react? You may have felt numb, frightened, or
angry. You may not have believed what the doctor was saying. You may have felt
all alone, even if your friends and family were in the same room with you.
These feelings are all normal.
For many people, the first
few weeks after diagnosis are very difficult. After you hear the word
"cancer," you may have trouble breathing or listening to what is being said.
When you are at home, you may have trouble thinking, eating, or sleeping.
People with cancer and those
close to them experience a wide range of feelings and emotions. These feelings
can change often and without warning.
At times, you may:
- be angry, afraid, or
- not really believe that
you have cancer
- feel out of control and
not able to care for yourself
- be sad, guilty, or lonely
- have a strong sense of
hope for the future
This section looks at many of
the feelings that come up when people find out they have cancer.
When you were first
diagnosed, you may have had trouble believing or accepting the fact that you
have cancer. This is called denial. Denial can be helpful because it can give
you time to adjust to your diagnosis. Denial can also give you time to feel
hopeful and better about the future.
Sometimes, denial is a
serious problem. If it lasts too long, it can keep you from getting the
treatment you need. It can also be a problem when other people deny that you
have cancer, even after you have accepted it.
The good news is that most
people (those with cancer as well as those they love and care about) work
through denial. By the time treatment begins, most people accept the fact that
they have cancer.
Once you accept that you have
cancer, you may feel angry and scared. It is normal to ask "Why me?" and be
- the cancer
- your health care providers
- your healthy friends and
And if you are religious, you
might even be angry with God.
Anger sometimes comes
from feelings that are hard to show--such as fear, panic, frustration,
anxiety, or helplessness. If you feel angry, don't pretend that everything is
okay. Talk with your family and friends about your anger. Most of the time,
talking will help you feel a lot better. (See "Sharing Your Feelings About Cancer.")
|Talking to one another is loving one another. |
word 'cancer' frightens everyone I know. It's a diagnosis that most people
fear more than any other."
It's scary to hear that you
have cancer. 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
Your family and close friends
may also worry about:
- seeing you upset or in
- not giving you enough
support, love, and understanding
- living without you
Some fears about cancer are
based on stories, rumors, and old information. Most people feel better when
they know what to expect. They feel less afraid when they learn about cancer
and its treatment. As one man with prostate cancer said,
read as much as I can find about my cancer. Imagining the worst is more
frightening than knowing what might happen. Knowing the facts makes me much
Your body may react to the
stress and worry of having cancer. You may notice that:
- your heart beats faster
- you have headaches or
- you don't feel like eating
- you feel sick to your
stomach or have diarrhea
- you feel shaky, weak, or
- you have a tight feeling
in your throat and chest
- you sleep too much or too
Stress can also keep your
body from fighting disease as well as it should.
You can learn to handle
stress in many ways, like:
- listening to music
- reading books, poems, or
- getting involved in
hobbies such as music or crafts
- relaxing or meditating,
such as lying down and slowly breathing in and out
- talking about your
feelings with family and close friends
If you are concerned about
stress, talk to your doctor or nurse. He or she may be able to help you by
referring you to a counselor or support group. You may also join a class that
teaches people ways of dealing with stress. The key is to find ways to control
stress and not to let it control you.
Even though almost everyone
worries about pain, it may not be a problem for you. Some people do not have
any pain. Others have pain only once in a while. Cancer pain can almost always
be relieved. If you are in pain, your doctor can suggest ways to help you feel
better. These include:
- prescription or
- cold packs or heating pads
- relaxation, like getting a
massage or listening to soothing music
- imagery, such as thinking
about a place where you feel happy and calm
- distraction, like watching
a movie, working on a hobby, or anything that helps take your mind off your
There is no reason for you to
be bothered with pain. There are many ways to control pain. Your doctor wants
and needs to hear about your pain. As soon as you have pain you should speak
up. Dealing with your pain can also help you deal with the feelings discussed
in this chapter.
|If you conceal your disease, you cannot expect to be cured.|
Pain Scales and Pain Journals
Pain scales or pain journals
are tools that you can use to describe how much pain you feel. These tools
can also help your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist find ways to treat your
You are the only person
who can decide how much pain you feel. When it comes to pain, there is no
right or wrong answer. On many pain scales, you are asked to rate your
pain as a number from 0 to 10. For example, you would rate your pain as
"0" if you feel no pain at all. You would rate your pain as "10" if it is
the worst pain you have ever felt in your life. You can pick any number
between 0 and 10 to describe your pain.
When you use a pain
scale, be sure to include the range. For example, you might say, "Today my
pain is a 7 on a scale from 0 to 10."
A pain journal or diary
is another tool you can use to describe your pain. With a journal or
diary, you not only use a pain scale but also write down what you think
causes your pain and what helps you feel better.
When you describe your pain
to your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or family member, tell them:
- where you feel pain
- what it feels like (sharp,
dull, throbbing, steady)
- how strong the pain feels
- how long it lasts
- what eases the pain and
what makes it worse
- what medicines you are
taking for the pain and how much they help
To find out more about
pain, contact the Cancer Information Service or look online at
http://www.cancer.gov (see "Resources for Learning More").
When you first learn that you
have cancer, you may feel as if your life is out of control. You may feel this
- you wonder if you will
live or die
- your daily routine is
messed up by doctor visits and treatments
- people use medical words
and terms that you don't understand
- you feel like you can't do
things you enjoy
- you feel helpless
- the health professionals
treating you are strangers
Even though you may feel out
of control, there are ways you can be in charge. For example, you can:
- Learn as
much as you can about your cancer.
You can call 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or TTY (for deaf and hard of
hearing callers) at 1-800-332-8615. You can also go online at
http://www.cancer.gov and click on "Need Help?" at the
lower left. (See "Learning About Your Cancer and Feeling More in
- Ask questions.
Let your health providers know when you don't understand what they are
saying, or when you want more information about something.
- Look beyond your
cancer. Many people with cancer feel better when
they stay busy. You may still go to work, even if you need to adjust your
schedule. You can also take part in hobbies such as music, crafts, or
As one woman with cancer
I started to feel better, I found myself looking for new outlets for
creativity. I had always promised myself that some day I would take a
photography course. My satisfaction with my new hobby helped me feel better
about other areas of my life as well."
Many people with cancer feel
sad or depressed. This is a normal response to any serious illness. When
you're depressed, you may have very little energy, feel tired, or not want to
Depression is sometimes a
serious problem. If feelings of sadness and despair seem to take over your
life, you may have clinical depression. The box below lists eight common signs
of depression. Let your health provider know if you have one or more of these
signs almost every day.
Early Signs of Depression
Check the signs that are
problems for you:
- a feeling that you are
helpless and hopeless, or that life has no meaning
- no interest in being
with your family or friends
- no interest in the
hobbies and activities you used to enjoy
- a loss of appetite, or
no interest in food
- crying for long
periods of time, or many times each day
- sleep problems, either
sleeping too much or too little
- changes in your energy
- thoughts of killing
yourself. This includes making plans or taking action to kill yourself,
as well as frequent thoughts about death and dying.
Depression can be treated.
Your doctor may prescribe medication. He or she may also suggest that you talk
about your feelings with a counselor or join a support group with others who
|Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.|
Many people with cancer feel
guilty. For example, you may blame yourself for upsetting the people you love.
You may worry that you are a burden to others, either emotionally or
financially. Or you may envy other people's good health and be ashamed of this
feeling. You might even blame yourself for lifestyle choices that could have
led to your cancer. For example, that lying out in the sun caused your skin
cancer or that smoking cigarettes led to your lung cancer.
These feelings are all normal
for people with cancer. One woman with breast cancer said,
I feel guilty that I caused my cancer, I think of little children who have
cancer. That makes me realize that cancer can just happen. It isn't my fault."
Your family and friends may
also feel guilty because:
- they are healthy while you
- they can't help you as
much as they want
- they feel stressed and
They may also want to be
perfect and feel guilty when they cannot give you all the care and
understanding you need.
Counseling and support groups
can help with these feelings of guilt. Let your doctor or nurse know if you,
or someone in your family, would like to talk with a counselor or go to a
People with cancer often feel
lonely or distant from others. You may find that your friends have a hard time
dealing with your cancer and may not visit. Some people might not even be able
to call you on the phone. You may feel too sick to take part in the hobbies
and activities you used to enjoy. And sometimes, even when you are with people
you love and care about, you may feel that no one understands what you are
You may feel less
lonely when you meet other people who have cancer. Many people feel better
when they join a support group and talk with others who are facing the same
challenges. (See "People Helping People.")
|Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.|
Not everyone wants or is able
to join a support group. Some people prefer to talk with just one person at a
time. You may feel better talking to a close friend or family member, someone
from your own religion, or a counselor.
Once people accept that they
have cancer, they often feel a sense of hope. There are many reasons to feel
- Cancer treatment can be
successful. Millions of people who have had cancer are alive today.
- People with cancer can
lead active lives, even during treatment.
- Your chances of living
with--and living beyond--cancer are better now than they have ever been
before. People often live for many years after their cancer treatment is
Some doctors think that hope
may help your body deal with cancer. Scientists are looking at the question of
whether a hopeful outlook and positive attitude helps people feel better. Here
are some ways you can build your sense of hope:
- Write down your hopeful
feelings and talk about them with others.
- Plan your days as you
always have done.
- Don't limit the things you
like to do just because you have cancer.
- Look for reasons to hope.
|However long the night, the dawn will break. |
--Hausa (African) Proverb
You may find hope in nature,
or your religious or spiritual beliefs. Or you may find hope in stories (such
as the ones in this book) about people with cancer who are leading active
will have many feelings as you learn to live with cancer. These feelings
can change from day to day, hour to hour, or even minute to minute.
Feelings of denial,
anger, fear, stress and anxiety, depression, sadness, guilt, and
loneliness are all normal. So is a feeling of hope. While no one is
cheerful all the time, hope is a normal and positive part of your cancer