Emotional Stages of Cancer Patients - Common Cancer Emotions

Written by: Arooj Paulus – B. Sc (Applied Psychology)

Last updated date : March 14, 2023

A person with cancer may have emotional effects in addition to physical ones. When someone is given a cancer diagnosis, they have many new feelings that they are not familiar with. Have you noticed that some cancer patients are sad while some are very hopeful? Emotional effects come in different stages. Let us see what the emotions and emotional stages are related to when a cancer patient first gets to know about the illness.

In this article, we will discuss the five emotional stages of cancer in newly diagnosed cancer patients. In the end, we will discuss some tips to deal with cancer emotions.

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Chapter 1:

Emotional Stages of Cancer Patients

Cancer is an illness that is often linked with loss. Such as loss of health, appearance, finances, relations, or simply your quality of life. You may adjust to these changes gradually and the journey can come along with a lot of different emotions. After receiving a cancer diagnosis, you could go through difficult moments and face a wide range of powerful emotions, including shock, fear, worry, rage, and grief. It is a difficult situation that can push you to a state of grieving. However, some people opt for a positive outlook on life with hope and clear life goals, in their later emotional stages.

So these emotions are felt by people in different stages which are as follows.

1. Shock

When people notice the first signs of cancer, they may be doubtful or hesitant to get it checked. Then after the diagnosis, the initial stage is shock or denial. Their reactions might be anything from outright refusal to simply acting shook. Feeling numb xhis a common reaction in the first emotional stage. For instance, Fred is a middle-aged man. When he first came to know about his illness he became numb and was denying the facts. He remains still out of emotion. Dissociation made him feel as if nothing is real or it is occurring to somebody else instead of him.

Hence dealing with illness news is not easy in the initial days and this feeling acts as your coping method. The illness might never be completely accepted by some people. Denial might eventually make it more difficult to comply with medical needs.

2. Fear

Cancer is a scary word in our society. As many people have a misconception that it cannot be treated. But due to advancements in healthcare, it has a cure. However, in the next emotional stage after the diagnosis of cancer, people fear that they will die due to the illness. It affects their work, social and personal lives. This phase is marked by extreme fear and anxiety. As people think about the treatment, difficulties, pain, finances, and future. But as the treatment starts many patients feel a reduction in fear and uncertainty.

In times of stress, your body goes into an alerted state of “fight or flight”. In this state, your pulse rate and breathing increase, and your heart feel pounding. This fear reaction may worsen your condition. It can impact your thoughts and reactions if the fear persists.

Tip: support group

3. Guilt and Anger

Cancer is an illness that has a lot of social stigmas. People who have cancer may feel guilty, blame, and self-doubt that they are not worthy of God punishing them with this terminal illness. Followed by guilt and blame is anger. As some people get angry and show passive-aggressive behavior with others and themselves too. Such as “why this has happened to them”, “what was their fault”, and “why they”.

This reaction is common in later stages of cancer as early stages of cancer may not have visible symptoms. So people get angry about healthcare practitioners, their family, and their fate. Or you may think that you are causing a hard time for your loved ones and it is your fault. Note that no one deserves illness but allow your body to relax when it gets one. It is nobody’s fault. Just have faith in your healing journey. A positive attitude will help you in recovering.

4. Loss

Cancer and its treatment may drain someone of their sense of self. A cancer patient may feel like they have lost their control, and feel sad and lonely most of the time.

Sadness is a common reaction to loss. You can be feeling sorrow about how cancer has altered your daily routine, your health, or your life. For instance, a person could stop enjoying things that they once used to enjoy.

Further, even with many people by your side, cancer may make you feel alone. You can experience loneliness if your loved ones have a hard time accepting your illness. It will affect you if your illness prevents you from working, interacting socially, or engaging in your regular hobbies.

5. Acceptance

However, after some time people slowly adapt to the fact. The concept of acceptance does not imply that what occurred is acceptable. The phrase “learning to cope with a new reality” refers to accepting the new truth as it is while also slowly adapting to it. People get to this phase according to their resilience.

Compared to how you felt when you initially heard the news, you can feel considerably differently. You could even experience inner power you weren’t aware you have.

Followed by acceptance, there comes hope. As an essential factor in overcoming hardship, hope is an important feature in the healing journey of cancer patients.

Chapter 2:

How to Deal with Cancer Emotions

During the emotional stages of cancer, people have varied ways of handling emotions. Here are a few tips to cope with strong emotions. Find out which ones work best for you.

  • Do not try to hold back your sentiments while admitting them. Let your body feel whatever it needs to. It is okay to cry or be sad at times.
  • Speak with a person who makes you feel at ease. Such as your therapist, spouse, friend, doctor, or member of your family. Talk about your feelings. Do not suffocate oneself in strong feelings.
  • Consult with your doctor and the medical staff. You are welcome to ask any questions. Do not think twice. They are available to assist with any worries. Talk about the illness’s treatment options and regular care. This will make your doubts and bad feelings clear while enabling you to concentrate on the good.
  • Join a support group. Like-minded people who are going through the same phase of life will help you to express easily and deal with your intense emotions.

Chapter 3:

Call to Action

You can read “Adjust to Your Diagnosis: Tips and Advice” under the section on change at Epsychonline. To help learn about the new illness, its stages, and how to manage cancer emotions.

Further, you can enroll in the “Chronic Pain” and “DBT for Anger” courses on our website. Research has shown that cancer can cause chronic pain due to nerve changes and tumorous cells. Patients with cancer want to return to their normal selves. So, they struggle to convey their new demands to others, which can cause anger and irritation. The mentioned courses will help you to cope with your pain and manage the other mental effects of cancer as well.

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  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

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