Cancer is an extremely traumatic condition. All patients will experience its effects in different ways, yet researchers have found some common themes.
Fear, naturally, is a common emotion. Cancer patients are afraid not only of the possibility of pain, debilitating illness or death, but also of losing independence or being a financial burden on their families. They also fear the side effects they may experience from chemotherapy, radiation or other treatments.
Most people with cancer will experience significant amounts of stress. The stress is often highest immediately after the diagnosis is made. Another stressful time is when active cancer treatment begins. Some people handle the initial stress well, only to have a delayed reaction months later.
Depression is also common. Experts estimate than one in four cancer patients will experience some degree of depression, which may affect their relationships with their friends or family members.
Getting emotional support during this difficult time is essential. Things you may want to do include:
- Get as much information about your condition as possible. Many people with cancer don't understand what the different treatments entail, and this can lead to unnecessary fears and anxiety. For example, most patients are extremely apprehensive about the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation, even though these side effects can often be managed. The American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute provide useful, mainstream information.
- Join a support group. It can be very comforting to get together with other people who share your experiences and concerns.
- Ask your doctor about counseling. Many psychologists and counselors work with cancer patients to help them deal with stress. In some cases, they use guided imagery and other relaxation techniques, which can help alleviate anxiety as well as discomfort from the disease and the treatments.