The Emotional Battle Behind Cancer
by J’Nel Wright
“I will meet you for lunch on one condition. You have to promise not to talk about cancer.”
When I first heard the news of my friend’s current battle for her life, I fought to find a suitable role that would provide her with something—anything—beneficial to an experience that carries such a transformational punch. At first, I thought referring to it in casual conversation or asking about her latest appointment would somehow “normalize” what proves to be a topic that squashes the joy out of everything else.
I meant well. But . . .
Millions of us fight cancer every year, with more than 1.7 million new cases in the United States in 2018. Sitting in a doctor’s office and learning that you have cancer is the beginning of a long journey. My friend eventually explained to me that, whether you have an army of friends and family members around you along that journey or are facing it alone, it’s a difficult process that elicits a range of emotions.
With a cancer diagnosis, most people expect a physical battle. The emotional struggle can come as a surprise. Dealing with these emotions is not easy, however, and you are not alone in the way you feel. There is no cookie-cutter reaction to cancer, but these are some of the feelings you may experience.
Cancer can be a lonely diagnosis, even when you have a strong support network. Not everybody can understand exactly what you are going through, and that can be a lonely feeling. Family and friends may also give a strong show of support after the initial diagnosis, but hugs, visits, and other visible support may wane over time.
“A cancer diagnosis is life-changing, and friends and family members may not fully understand all the ways your world has been turned upside down,” says Eric VanWalleghem, administrator at the Siena Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Auburn, California. “This might make you feel like you are facing the battle alone. Combat this loneliness by talking to the people around you about how you feel, and find a support group that understands what you are going through.”
Anxiety and Depression
A change in your life as big as cancer can have a major impact on your emotional well-being. Physical symptoms like pain and nausea can wear you down mentally. You might also feel lower self-esteem and fear about your short-term and long-term health. The prognosis is not always certain with a cancer diagnosis, and this uncertainty can lead to anxiety and depression. Be open with your family and doctors about how you feel. Your doctors may be able to answer questions to ease your anxiety, and family members can give you the extra support you need to cope.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects people who have been through a highly stressful or traumatic event. People who have been diagnosed with cancer might not think of themselves in that context, but hearing you have a life-threatening condition can be very distressing. PTSD goes beyond anxiety and depression and can have severe consequences on a person’s day-to-day life. Symptoms of PTSD are not fleeting. Indeed, they can last a very long time. They may include flashbacks, extreme irritability, loss of appetite, and even self-destructive behavior.
It is common for people with cancer to experience a variety of emotions as they try to deal with this illness on all levels. If you are fighting cancer, do not feel pressured to put on a brave face and have a positive attitude. Ask for the support you need from family and friends, and talk to doctors and counselors to help you understand and deal with the emotions you feel.
Photo credit by: Google search – filtered by re-use. Artwork: “Anxiety” by Devin Elle Kurtz (US).
J'Nel Wright is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in topics concerning health and wellness, aging, caregiving, humor, travel and business. Her work has appeared in a variety of regional and national publications. Her educational background includes a bachelor's degree in English and Social Work. She has traveled throughout Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, French Polynesia, Mexico and much of the United States. She is a full time writer.