Cancer brings up different feelings for everyone. Some people compare dealing with cancer to a roller-coaster ride. During your cancer diagnosis and treatment, you may feel:
- Hopeful about fully treating cancer
- Relief when starting treatment
- Concern about physical changes
- Fear of suffering, pain or death
- Sadness and distress about having to deal with cancer
- Anxiety about the future and feeling vulnerable
- Anger about having cancer
- Concern for your family and children
Find your inner strength
Finding positive ways to cope with emotional ups and downs can help you make it through your cancer journey. Think about the times you successfully dealt with difficult situations in the past. What worked well? What didn’t work? Using what you’ve learned from past experience can help you find strength and courage to deal with new challenges. This can help you cope with cancer treatment and find new ways to grow.
Dealing with depression, fear and grief
Depression and anxiety aren’t uncommon with life-changing medical diagnoses. Sometimes dealing with these emotions can be overwhelming. But know they can be treated and there is support available. Let the care team know of any concerns.
Fear of change and loss can also be experienced in daily life with a cancer diagnosis including:
- Loss of control over your schedule and work routine
- Loss of control and the plans you had for your immediate future
- Change in social relationships
- Change in physical appearance
Feelings of grief often follows a sense of loss or the reality of loss. Anger, sadness, frustration and fear all are expected reactions associated with grief. The reality of how a cancer experience is affecting a patient’s life can be difficult and painful.
How to share your cancer diagnosis with others
When you tell others about your cancer diagnosis is up to you. Coming to terms with feelings about cancer can be difficult. And it can take time. Deciding who and when to share this news can be hard. But in some cases, sharing feelings may be helpful. Your instinct may be to protect those close to you from worry. However, the support of family and friends could help you – and even them – cope with a cancer diagnosis.
When you share your diagnosis, you might get a variety of reactions. Some people will be uncomfortable with the news, others may be shocked or supportive from the very first moment. Unexpected reactions of others to your news may leave you feeling upset, disappointed or surprised.
Usually, if someone reacts badly, it’s not meant to be insensitive. Some people have a personal experience that makes them uncomfortable with the situation. Or they’re shocked about the diagnosis. Or they don’t know what to say or do.
Family and friends may have similar feelings of anger, fear and confusion, like anyone would. They may need time to adjust to news of the diagnosis or need to talk right away. If someone’s reaction is upsetting, know that a response is not required. Ask a supportive loved one to help respond when you’re ready.
If a family member or friend is unable to be supportive, find other people who can be there for you. Social workers, psychotherapists and spiritual counselors are available to help.
Parenting and a cancer diagnosis
As a parent with cancer, you may worry how your children will react to your diagnosis and treatment. This can lead to feelings of anxiety. Talking openly and honestly about your cancer with your children is important and healthy. It’s important to have realistic conversations about cancer as a family.
Studies show telling children about a cancer diagnosis is better than holding back information. It’s also better to tell them sooner rather than later. Children who are old enough to sense something is wrong can be supportive if the situation is explained.
When children aren’t told about a parent’s cancer diagnosis or involved in conversations about a parent’s treatment, they may feel sad, afraid and unable to ask about the cancer. Discussing cancer with children helps them to understand what is going on. It also gives you a chance to be clear about what is not happening.
Talking to your doctor
A new cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Asking the right questions can also be difficult. You’ll probably have a lot of questions before or during treatment. Here are some questions to consider asking at your follow-up appointments.
- What type of cancer do I have?
- How common is the type of cancer I have?
- What stage is my cancer?
- What treatments do you recommend for my cancer?
- Why do you recommend these treatments?
- How well do these treatments work?
- What is my prognosis with these treatments?
- What are the short-term risks, side effects or symptoms of these treatments?
Managing your medicine
Taking medicine can be confusing, especially if you haven’t taken much medicine before. Taking medicine can be difficult if you take it often or if it causes side effects.
However, taking all your medicines exactly as your doctor instructs is important. Some side effects go away or lessen after a few days. To help take your medicine safely and effectively, follow these tips:
- Make sure you understand:
- The names of your medicine
- Why you are taking each medicine and the expected results
- How often and when to take the medicine
- How much medicine to take each time
- Ask your doctor and pharmacist about side effects and what to do about them.
- Talk with your doctor and pharmacist before taking any nutritional supplements or over-the-counter medicines, including pain relievers. Some over-the counter medicines or supplements may negatively affect your prescription medicine and cause side effects.
- Take all your medicine, even if you feel fine. Don’t stop taking a medicine before first talking with your doctor.
- If you miss a dose or take an incorrect dose of medicine, call your doctor.
- Tell your doctor and pharmacist right away if you are:
- Having uncomfortable side effects
- Not getting enough relief
- Having difficulty swallowing a pill or tablet, or other problem with taking a medicine
- Take your medicine exactly as prescribed. Don’t chew, crush, or break any capsules or tablets unless your doctor or pharmacist says it’s okay.
- Know which medicines to take with food or on an empty stomach. Some medicines get into your blood better if you have a full stomach and some if you have an empty stomach.
- Do not drive while taking medicine for pain or sleep.
Managing side effects of chemotherapy
Chemotherapy often causes side effects that interfere with daily life. If you have medicine side effects, talk with your doctor. There may be medications to manage side effects. For example, medical cannabis for cancer may be an option to help manage pain and nausea from chemotherapy. It’s also possible that there are different cancer treatments you could try.
Chemotherapy targets the body’s fast-growing cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemotherapy also affects other fast-growing healthy cells in the body. That includes the cells that make hair grow, and keep your mouth and intestines healthy. The loss of these healthy cells causes side effects.
Generally, side effects are not a sign of how well your chemotherapy treatment is working. Your experience with side effects depends on your medicine and the body’s response.
Most side effects usually end when your chemotherapy ends. However, some patients could experience long-term side effects. Talk with your doctor about possible long-term side effects of your chemotherapy.
Some of the most common side effects of chemotherapy are fatigue, nausea and hair loss. Patients can have these side effects and others. Some people have no side effects or very few. Usually, your care team helps manage short-term side effects.
Hear more about managing the side effects of chemo from an oncology nurse:
Remember, that you’re not alone in your cancer journey. Support resources are available:
- Cancer support groups in Minnesota
- Financial assistance for cancer patients
- Living with cancer: lifestyle changes, nutrition and exercise
You can also talk with a HealthPartners and Park Nicollet cancer care specialist to learn more.