Dealing with the emotions of a diagnosis of cancer personally or a loved one or someone who has been diagnosed with cancer is difficult to say the least. Sometimes people deal with these emotions by getting angry. I had a patient who many would describe as a curmudgeon, he was a big grouch. People didn’t like to talk to him because he seemed so angry, but really what was happening was his life was now out of his control and he was scared. His first day he came for treatment, his wife came with him, as we walked to the treatment room, he said “this is my wife, we’ve been married for 30 long years”, I turned to his wife and said “wow you must have been nominated for sainthood!”, both of them broke into laughter and he said “you and I are going to get along just fine”!
I wouldn’t do that with every person, but I could tell he was just testing me, making sure he could trust me during this difficult time during his life. Everyday after that he told us jokes and lifted the veil of anger he had arrived with. He shared his fear of what would happen to his family if something happened to him, just being able to talk about it and not be judged helped him.
Having been diagnosed with cancer or having a loved one diagnosed with cancer causes grief within everyone’s lives. And yet grief is a normal process in our lives, grief is the emotional suffering that people feel after a loss of some kind. It doesn’t have to be just about illness, a divorce can cause grief, intense disappointments, loss of a job, all of these can cause grief.
Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has named five stages of grief people go through following a serious loss. The five stage are ;Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance (DABDA).Often people get stuck in one of the first four stages, or they go through just a couple of the stages. People’s lives can be painful until they move to the fifth stage – acceptance.
Five Stages Of Grief (DABDA)
- Denial and Isolation
At first, we tend to deny the event or loss has taken place, and may withdraw from our usual social contacts. Some literally ingnore the diagnosis and go on as if nothing has happened, while other will keep the diagnosis a secret from loved ones. These behaviors can occur indefinitely or until symptoms can no longer be ignored.
The grieving person may then be furious at the person who inflicted the hurt(even if that person is dead), or at the world, for letting it happen. A person may be angry with his/herself for letting the event take place, even if, realistically, nothing could have stopped it. A grieving person can get angry at those who are trying to help them during this time, including the health professionals who are treating them.
Now the grieving person may make bargains with God or whatever spiritual being and ask, “If I do this, will you make me better, will you let me have my life back?”
The person feels numb, although anger and sadness may remain underneath. Some may feel hopeless and suicidal.
Acceptance occurs when the other four stages have tapered off. The person simply accepts the reality of whatever they are going through. These emotions can come and go, they can be felt by the patient and by any caregivers, family and friends of the patient. Many patients try to hide what they are feeling so as to not burden those around them, however that actually delays the emotional healing and takes a physical toll as well.
Emotion Mitigation Strategies
Finding support is important, even if you have great family and friends that are super supportive, it does help to connect with others going through a similar situation and to have people to listen and support you who aren’t as vested in your life and can remain neutral. A place that will help you find support in your area is the American Cancer Society. Also speak to the social workers at your treatment facility, the social workers are there not only for social support, but emotional support as well.
Spiritual support is important as well. Studies have been done that show people who have spiritual support fair better in dealing with having cancer. Spiritual doesn’t have to mean organized religion, just having a connection with something bigger than yourself is being spiritual.
Coping with feelings can be difficult, one way that has worked for others is to relax and meditate. You might try thinking of yourself in a favorite place, such as a beach or fishing, whatever works for you. Then try breathing slowly while paying attention to each breath, or listening to soothing music. These kinds of activities can help you feel calmer and less stressed. You can even do this while actually on the treatment table.
Another strategy that has worked is light exercise, whatever activity feels right for you. Of course check with your Radiation Therapist or Radiation Oncologist as to what exercises would be right for you.