Cancer & Your Feelings

Macmillan Cancer Support

It’s natural to have many different thoughts and feelings after a cancer diagnosis. Some people feel upset, shocked or anxious, while others feel angry, guilty or alone. There is no right way for you to feel.

Emotions can be difficult for you, and people close to you, to deal with. You may find that some feelings pass with time, while others last longer. Try to find a way of coping that suits you.

It’s impossible to know how you will react to a diagnosis of cancer. Common feelings include:

  • shock and disbelief
  • anger
  • avoidance
  • guilt and blame
  • a loss of control, independence and confidence
  • sorrow and sadness
  • withdrawal
  • loneliness and isolation
  • fear and uncertainty
  • anxiety.

There are many ways to manage your emotions. Sharing your thoughts and feelings is often a good place to start. Try talking with someone close. Remember, help is always available if you need it. Speak to your doctor, family or friend if you are struggling to cope.

Positive steps to help yourself

It can be hard to know what to do when you feel low. Knowing where to start can be especially daunting.

One of the best things to do is to talk about how you feel with someone close. Family and friends often know you best and will usually understand your feelings.

It’s really important to take care of yourself. Try to eat well and exercise regularly. You may not feel like it at the time, but getting up and dressed each day can really help.

It’s normal for your feelings to build up. If you feel like they are getting too much, there are ways to release your tension. Complementary therapies may help you to relax, while support groups allow you to share your experiences. Some organisations provide counselling and emotional support, if you feel this would help.

It may take a while for you to know what works and what doesn’t. Advice and support is always available if you are finding it difficult to cope.

Talking and getting support

Some people feel that they need to look as if they are coping well. They feel they must put on a brave face or protect other people’s feelings. But people close to you usually want to know how you really feel so that they can support you. Sometimes they may find it hard to talk to you about their own feelings if you do not talk to them about yours. It can be lonely for everyone involved if you are all protecting each other.

Talk to someone you trust and feel comfortable with. If you find it hard to talk to people close to you, tell your cancer team or GP. They can refer you to a psychologist or counsellor.

Talking about your worries or uncertainties helps you to:

  • get them out in the open and stop you from going over things repeatedly
  • understand your feelings and put them into perspective
  • work out if you need to act on them, for example by contacting your cancer team to stop worries from growing bigger in your mind
  • feel closer to the people you talk to.

Join a support group or online community

You may find it useful to talk to someone in a similar situation. Sometimes just realising that other people have similar thoughts and feelings can help you feel more able to cope.

You can get involved in a support group and attend their meetings. Some organisations or support groups offer buddy systems. Some offer counselling or complementary therapies.

You can also ask questions and get support from others through the internet. You can visit Macmillan's online community to talk about your experiences with other people.

Remember that other people’s experiences may not be relevant to your situation. If you find sharing your own experience or reading other people’s makes you more anxious, it’s probably better to get support in another way.

Write it down

Writing about what is happening to you can help you express your deepest feelings privately. You might find that it helps give you a sense of control. Sometimes keeping a diary or journal can help you work through various problems.

Reading it back can help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings. It can also help you identify what the real issues are for you, what triggers them and what has helped you to cope.

Try to include the good or positive things that have been helpful as well as the things you find difficult.

For further information go to

The Macmillan Support Line is staffed by trained experts and offers people with cancer and their loved ones practical, clinical, financial and emotional support. Call free on 0808 808 0000 (Monday to Friday, 9am – 8pm).

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