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Mental Health And Cancer

There’s a reason TV shows like to show people ‘zoned out’ when they receive a cancer diagnosis. It’s a huge shock, and the most common response to this type of news is to freeze. The flood of emotions can easily overwhelm you and make it difficult to process what’s being said to you. Once you’ve moved through the ‘freeze’ response, there’s a lot of new information to take in and understand, and there’s a good chance your life will be different from now on.

Being diagnosed with cancer can have a real impact on your mental health from the moment you find out about it. While it can affect everyone differently, it’s important to be aware of it, and be ready to manage your mental health during your cancer journey.

How Can A Cancer Diagnosis Affect My Mental Health?

While a diagnosis of cancer will affect everyone differently, there is an almost universal feeling of numbness and overwhelm when you first receive the news. It’s a lot of information to take in, and often your emotions will be battling to be felt first. You might feel shocked, numb or angry. You might feel like it isn’t real, or that you don’t deserve to be going through this. After that initial shock, many people will feel anxious. Starting treatment, planning for the future and what the impact might be on your loved ones are all valid concerns, and you should discuss them with someone close to you, or a cancer support service.

The impact of your diagnosis can spread beyond the initial diagnosis. It can affect your mental health at any time, even when treatment is over. It’s a stressful time, and there isn’t always a straightforward path through it. Your mental health may fluctuate during your journey, with your emotions being very ‘up and down’. This is completely normal, and you should never feel bad about your feelings during this time. Give yourself some grace and allow yourself to feel the feelings. Remember you don’t have to be positive all the time, the difficult moments come for everyone, but they do go as well.

A few of the emotions and changes you might experience include:

  • Feelings of loss, as if you’re grieving for what plans you had for your life,

  • Feeling low, worried and panicked. Sometimes these feelings may be fleeting, and others they may last a few days or weeks.

  • Finding it more difficult to do your day-to-day activities.

  • Feeling tearful, angry or frightened more often.

  • Having trouble sleeping due to anxiety, or waking frequently with nightmares.

  • Feeling more vulnerable, or not as strong as you did before.

  • Everything feeling out of your control.

Cancer And Existing Mental Health Problems

If you’re one of the 45.8 million people who experience mental health problems in daily life, then you might be worried about how a cancer diagnosis will affect you. It can make it feel more difficult for you to ask for help, or to know if your reactions are ‘normal’.

The key here is to make sure that:

  1. Your mental health team knows about your diagnosis

  2. You ask for help when you need it

You don’t have to wait until things get really bad to ask for support. In fact, we advise against it! Instead, speaking to your cancer team about your mental well-being is an important part of cancer care, and any mental health professionals need to know about your cancer so that they can support you, and be on the lookout for any warning signs. If you have someone you trust, talking about your mental health with a friend or family member is a good idea, as this will give you a more accessible support network and help you feel less alone. If you’re currently under care for a mental health condition, then they may be able to point you towards resources or services that can help care for you.

Where Can I Find Mental Health Support?

If at any point during your cancer journey you feel overwhelmed or like you need help, it’s important that you reach out for support. You don’t have to go through this alone, and there are plenty of resources out there you can use. If you aren’t sure where to turn, speak to:

Your Cancer Team: They will understand the pressures you’re under and may be able to refer you to mental health support in your area, or mental health support that is specific to cancer patients.

Cancer Charities: Many cancer charities, big or small, will have their own support groups or collections of resources to help people. Some will be dedicated to a specific type of cancer, while others will be more generalised.

Mental Health Charities: Many mental health charities can provide general support, or specific support for cancer patients.

Your Doctor: Your GP will be able to talk to you about any local support services available, and refer you for treatment.

Local Organisations: Check in your local area and see if there are any independent support groups. These are usually run either by individuals, doctors or religious organisations, and can be incredibly helpful in reducing feelings of isolation and helping you feel heard.

And of course, if you need any help or advice in finding mental health support during your cancer journey, you can always ask us. As a small independent charity we might not have the resources to create our own support groups, but we can listen to your story, and help you find the right kind of mental health support for you. Or, if you just need to get away from it all and have some clear headspace, we can organise a free holiday for you and your family at Jill’s Place. Just get in touch, and we’ll be happy to help.


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