Feelings and Emotions Experienced in Stages during Diagnosis, Treatment and Recovery from Cancer

When I first discovered I had cancer, I was in total disbelief. All that kept circulating through my mind was, ‘That’s impossible, they’ve made a mistake. I’ve always been so healthy. I couldn’t possibly have cancer’. I had always associated cancer with ‘sick’ people or ‘unlucky’ people. I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

As time went on and I went through different stages of my treatment, I found myself also slipping into different types of emotions. Cancer doesn’t involve just one emotion, it is a rainbow of emotions all affecting us to different degrees, and at different times during our treatment and recovery.

Orthodox cancer treatment is aggressive and surgery can be mentally and physically uncomfortable. Radiation treatment and chemotherapy often causes more discomfort and pain than the initial disease. Treatment can extend over a number of weeks, months or even years and the patient is forced to deal with an array of emotional reactions caused by the treatment, as well as many physical and emotional side effects. It is difficult to convince yourself you are recovering when you feel so sick. It’s hard to be so optimistic, as everyone says when you feel much worse now than when you were first diagnosed. It seems in your mind and heart that this pain will never end. It’s hard to imagine ever feeling normal again, although this is a wish you hold closest to your heart.

Shock and Disbelief

Shock is the first emotion or feeling experienced upon the realization that you have cancer. When the doctor informs you, coldness rushes through your body, your spine tingles and it feels like your heart is being stabbed. Part of you wants to just fade away into the darkness and disappear forever. Very little desire is felt to talk to anyone, hear anything or to make any decisions. Your mind and body goes numb. There is very little anyone can do to ease your pain.

Shock is also felt by some family members and accompanies the feeling of disbelief. It is not unusual to want to panic, as we so often associate cancer with death and running out of time. It is important not to panic. In the majority of cases you do have time to make decisions, to make changes and decide which path is best suited to your healing. It may all seem so overwhelming and daunting in the beginning, but as time passes you will adapt mechanisms and attitudes to cope with the changes. It is natural to face the possibility of death and in facing the possibility of death, we also learn to face the probability of living!

The only thing that can help at this stage is simply patience – you must wait until the feelings pass. Shock, fear and panic in any situation, whether it be news of an accident, death of a loved one or loss of something precious to us, is natural and is released from our lives in time. One thing is sure, nothing in life is permanent. As time passes, life changes and our feelings of shock, grief and disbelief also pass.

We must remember that we do not all operate on the same emotional timetable. One family member may feel the need to talk, while others may feel like becoming private or introspective. It is important to let the person who has cancer decide the right time for discussion. For the family and friends involved, love, compassion, understanding and patience are needed to help the person involved feel secure and loved. If the person realizes they have plenty of support and understanding from precious loved ones, it can help bring the person out of shock faster than expected. Remember that it is a stage that all persons involved with cancer must go through. For the loved ones involved, just be patient and be there when everyone is ready to talk and open up.


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