“You have cancer…”
These words often result in what feels like an emotional roller coaster ride. Undoubtedly, you and the people around you will experience a wide range of emotions – fear, sadness, grief, anger, frustration, resignation, etc., and these emotions are likely to change rapidly and contradict each other. This ‘roller coaster’ may confuse and even overwhelm you and those around you.
For many, the ride begins with the first diagnosis; for others it may not manifest until much later when the realization of lingering or post treatment symptoms occur. For some, it may be the fear and/or uncertainty of cancer recurrence.
Regardless of when you experience these emotional extremes, it is important to recognize them as valid and to understand that they may interfere with your ability to function in your daily life- at work and at play- and even hinder your ability to tolerate your cancer treatment. Emotions play an integral part of our daily lives and our ability (or inability) to function at our best. Even our best efforts may find us unable to ‘shut down our mind’ and let our bodies get the rest that is critical to peak performance and optimal health.
Sometimes, a cancer diagnosis can also worsen pre-existing emotional problems or trigger memories to traumatic experiences from the past.
No two people handle stress in identical ways, yet there are some general guidelines that may help us all find some relief. Some suggestions to find relief are outlined in this link and briefly summarized below:
- Allow yourself to be with and go through your emotions and thoughts (because if you put them under the carpet, you will eventually trip over them!)
- Find distractions to keep your mind occupied.
- Begin to acknowledge and process your thoughts and feelings by talking with a loved one, or through journaling.
- Explore established coping techniques, such as asking for help (at home or work), physical exercise (as permitted by your cancer doctor), mindfulness exercises, breathing exercises, applying sleep hygiene.
- Seek validation and support from reputable self-help resources or peer/buddy programs (ideally local and in person and supervised by a professional).
For most, the roller coaster will not significantly impact your ability to function and will pass as you become accustomed to your new ‘normal.’ Giving yourself permission to work through the emotions you experience will help your inner self to heal and regain your sense of self. However, for some, it might be time to reach out. If you experience emotions that ‘paralyze’ you in your daily living, if you experience feelings of overwhelming helplessness or hopelessness, or if you entertain thoughts of hurting yourself or others you need to reach out and ask for help. Talk to your physician, your loved ones, your clergyman; share with them what you are experiencing. Pick up the phone and call your local emergency number (in USA: call 911 or call/chat with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255). Know that there are people out there who are standing by, willing and wanting to help you through this time.