When you are first told you have cancer, it may be difficult to take in. The first emotions that you go through may be
shock and confusion. If it is difficult to take in what the doctor is telling you, try to keep asking questions until you feel satisfied that you understand. If necessary, make another appointment for another day and ask the questions again.
Hearing your diagnosis, and facing treatment, can make you feel a wide range of strong emotions. Many people feel a combination of anger, fear and sadness. Over time, these feelings can become easier to deal with, but if that is not the case for you, don't worry - there is help available and there are ways of coping.
Anxiety and panic attacks
Feeling very worried about something, such as having cancer or cancer treatment, can sometimes turn into
panic attacks. Feelings of
anxiety may come and go, or be present all of the time.
panic attacks can include:
- over-breathing (hyperventilating),
- tense muscles,
- dry mouth, and
If you're experiencing any of the symptoms, speak to your doctor as soon as possible. They will be able to help you control the
anxiety. They may refer you to a counselor, as talking therapy can often be an effective treatment.
It can sometimes be hard to work out whether you have
depression or are just feeling low. (See the
depression health encyclopaedia topic to find out the signs and symptoms of
If you feel very low for more than a couple of weeks, feel as though you cannot cope, or feel suicidal, always see your doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor will be able to advise you about the types of help that are available, such as
antidepressant medications and
It can also help to speak to a close friend or family member, or go to a local support group. Your doctor will know of support groups specifically for people with cancer and their caregivers, in your area.
Don't be embarrassed -
depression is a serious condition but it can be treated effectively with help from medical professionals.
Many people with cancer have problems sleeping at some point. This may be due to feeling sick because of the cancer, or the cancer treatment, or because of
anxiety or finding it hard to relax. Speak to your doctor, specialist or nurse if you have trouble sleeping. These bedtime tips may also help:
- Before bed, have a bath with a few drops of lavender oil (lavender-scented pillow spray can also help).
- Have a warm milky drink before bed.
- Cut down on caffeine, especially in the evenings.
- Avoid alcohol - it may make you feel sleepy at first, but it actually disrupts your sleep.
- Get some regular gentle exercise, if possible.
- Try to get used to a regular bedtime routine; go to bed at the same time every night.
- Try a relaxation tape.
- If you wake up in the night, try not to worry about it. Get up and do something for a while until you feel sleepy again, and then go back to bed. Don't lie in bed tossing and turning; it can make you feel anxious.
If you are resting a lot during the day, and not sleeping at night, it might be worth a change to your routine. If you feel up to it, stay out of bed during the day, but without overdoing it. Perhaps just have one short sleep during the day if you feel you need it.
Talking to someone
Everybody is different, and while some find it easy to be open with a partner, close friend or family member, some find those closest to them the hardest to open up to. This is often due to worry about how those feelings will affect them.
There is no right or wrong way, but for your emotional well-being, it is usually a good idea to
express your feelings to at least one person. That person might be your doctor, specialist, nurse, counselor, friend, partner, another person who has cancer, or even your whole support group.
Some people find that it is easier to manage emotions such as anger, frustration and sadness if they learn relaxation techniques, such as visualization, meditation or progressive muscle relaxation. Your cancer nurse will be able to tell you more about these techniques, and also about complementary therapies such as
acupuncture, aromatherapy, massage,
homeopathy and reflexology.
There are many health professionals involved in cancer care, such as the Macmillan nurses, who will be happy to help you get through the emotional side of having cancer, as well as the physical side. Counsellors, clinical psychologists,
psychiatrists and community psychiatric nurses (CPNs) are specifically trained to help people with conditions such as
depression. Your doctor or cancer specialist will be able to talk to you about referring you to the most appropriate health professional, should you need them.
Regular exercise really can help you to feel better because it makes your body produce mood-enhancing chemicals. Speak to your doctor or cancer specialist first though, and don't push yourself beyond what feels comfortable. Even just going for a walk every day, or taking a yoga class, could help you to feel more positive.
Alcohol and drugs
Drinking alcohol can be harmful when combined with certain cancer treatments and
antidepressant medications, so you will need to check with your doctor or specialist. If it is safe for you to drink, continuing to socialize can be a positive thing when you are going through cancer treatment, a welcome distraction, and a way of not feeling different from everyone else.
However, remember that too much alcohol can actually cause problems. It can be damaging to relationships, reduce the quality of your sleep making you feel more tired, and have a depressant effect making you feel even more low. So keep alcohol to a minimum.
Recreational drugs can make you feel better short-term, but long-term they may be very damaging to your health, and should be avoided altogether.