Coping with Your Emotions When Diagnosed with Cancer
Written by: Abigail Saneholtz, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist
You are reading this because you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is a very distressing word for most people that is unfortunately also a common diagnosis. There are more than 14 million people alive in the US that have cancer. Fear, shock, anger, sadness, panic, hopelessness, anxiety, helplessness and depression are common feelings that men and women go through when they are newly diagnosed, receiving treatment or are in remission. Many individuals feel distressed about what is happening within their mind and body.
When working with clients who are diagnosed with cancer, I often hear that they feel “broken”, “out of control”, “anxious” and “scared”. They often wonder “Am I going to die”, “what kind of future can I have” and are in disbelief that they have cancer. Some individuals report not feeling in control of their bodies, being vulnerable, not feeling safe, and are highly anxious as they wait for tests results and treatment to begin. Others share that after they were diagnosed, they kept hearing about cancer “everywhere”. Everything about dealing with cancer is stressful including having to undergo multiple rounds of testing, waiting for surgery, undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, as well as the aftereffects of enduring such treatments.
Many individuals that have gotten through treatment share that they are in shock and surprised when they feel depressed or anxious post-treatment. They often disclose that they thought going through treatment would have been the most difficult part. Coping with the side effects of treatment including weight changes, fatigue, aches, pain, memory difficulties, hair loss and “brain fog” can be alarming and scary. Attending oncology appointments are anxiety-provoking and emotionally draining since the fear of the cancer recurring is typically on most cancer survivors’ minds. Dealing with all these thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms isn’t always easy. Working on increasing your coping skills will help to improve your mental and physical health as you endure treatment and manage life afterward.
Important ways to help you cope
- Learn as much as you can about your diagnosis.
When you don’t have information most clients report that they feel anxious. Our brains are conditioned to a having a negative bias about the future. Google and WebMD are common sources people consult when they are newly diagnosed. Keep in mind that although they can provide a sense of knowing some information – Your oncologist and other treatment team specialists are your BEST sources of information about YOUR specific diagnosis, treatment and follow up care.
- Identify and Work on Accepting Your Emotions
Learning to understand what you are feeling and being able to accept those emotions will take time. It is important to be kind to yourself and not judgmental about what you are feeling and how you are coping. The emotions you are facing will continue to change as you to go through treatment. Paying attention to what you are feeling emotionally, being able to label the emotions and how they show up in your body is important.
- Spend time with support systems
Surrounding yourself with trusted friends and family that are positive and helpful in meeting your needs is essential to feeling more hopeful about your future and increasing a sense of confidence to endure your cancer journey. Clients often report that they have been self-sufficient and independent prior to their diagnosis and treatment, which has made asking and receiving help from others difficult. Meeting with a therapist and cancer support group can be beneficial to learning to accept support and to feel less alone in the struggles that arise.
- Learn strategies to help you regulate your emotions
- Learning mindfulness skills that begin with regulating breathing can be helpful to feeling more in control of your mind and body. Working with a therapist can help you practice mindfulness skills as part of a coping plan for learning to manage your thoughts and feelings as you undergo testing and treatment.
- Utilizing a journal to process your thoughts and feelings, as well as an outlet for all those emotions can be helpful.
- If you are undergoing testing and need distractions to focus on think about having a playlist of empowering songs or ones that you enjoy as something to focus on. If you need some suggestions see the play list below, download and tune in.
- Coping with others’ reactions
Many times, when working with clients, I often hear about how they had to comfort others when they learned that the client is undergoing treatment. Of course, learning that you and/or your loved one has cancer is highly stressful. It is important to remember though to set boundaries on how much you engage in helping others at a time when you are going through a lot. Some individuals feel more in control when they can help others. However, when you are the one going through a health issue working on not taking on too many demands can be helpful as you adjust and learn to cope better.
If you are currently undergoing treatment and feel alone – please remember you are not alone! Your cancer journey will be difficult at times, but continuing to attend appointments, follow through on treatment and seeking support will help you as you endure each step!
The mental health professionals at Family Psychology Associates understand your concerns and are trained to help through confidential therapy services. Please call our office to set up an appointment at 727-203-3770 (Trinity Office) or 727-725-8820 (Safety Harbor Office).