It’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Week soon, so we’re going to take a deep breath and stare the reality of cancer full in the face. Everyone knows someone who’s suffered from cancer. Perhaps you yourself have been or are currently a cancer patient. It’s a scary and debilitating disease, which takes a huge physical toll.
But cancer is not just a physical disease. It also takes a mental and emotional toll, which need a lot of care and attention. Hospitals and medical professionals these days are excellent at treating the physical elements of cancer – but the psychological impact can be a bit more complicated.
COPING WITH A DIAGNOSIS OF CANCER
Reactions to a cancer diagnosis vary a lot from person to person. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to feel. Some cancer patients are horrorstruck upon receiving their diagnosis, while others feel perfectly calm. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer, it can be difficult to know how to react, or how to behave around others. If you’re confused by your emotions, and feel that you’re behaving strangely, don’t worry. There is no ‘right way’ to react to a cancer diagnosis, and everybody responds differently. Common reactions include (but are not limited to!)
• Feelings of a loss of control
It is also likely that your feelings will alter a lot as your treatment progresses. Cancer treatment can be difficult and exhausting. It may bring about a lot of changes to both your body and your state of mind. Dealing with pain, fatigue, and a body which is behaving in ways beyond your control can bring out a vast mix of emotions, which may change rapidly.
COPING WITH A CERVICAL CANCER DIAGNOSIS
In particular, cervical cancer may cause changes in the way you feel about yourself and your sexuality. Complications may arise from cervical cancer which could leave you unable to have children, or bring on the menopause earlier than would otherwise have been the case. Even if you already have children (or were never intending to have children) this kind of thing can still be upsetting. It may knock your confidence, or affect the way you feel about your body or your femininity. Your doctor will explain the implications of any surgery or treatment to you, and do their best to prepare you for the future. However, it may also help to talk through any worries or sadness you have with an accredited counsellor.
Practical issues may also arise when you’re coping with cancer treatment. These can include:
• Budgeting and money matters, as cancer treatment may require you or other family members to take time off work.
• Childcare and domestic responsibilities. Cancer treatment can leave patients feeling weak and fatigued. In order to get as much rest as they can, it’s often useful for another family member to shoulder more of the childcare and domestic tasks than they usually would.
How you handle these practical issues depends a lot on your personal circumstances and the help available to you. But it’s really important to acknowledge when things are getting too much, and ask for help – be that practical or emotional help.
COPING WHEN A LOVED ONE HAS CANCER
It’s hard to have cancer, but it can be even harder to watch a loved one struggling with cancer. While patients with cancer can concentrate on their health and hopeful recovery, those who love them may feel helpless, worried, and frustrated at their own inability to tackle the cancer directly.
It’s hard to know what to do to help someone with cancer, especially as every patient will have different needs. If someone close to you has cancer and you really want to help them, the best thing is probably to talk to them about what they actually need, and work out a system whereby you are helping without transcending their boundaries. Many patients become irritated by too many offers of help or queries about how they’re feeling, while others like this kind of attention. The only way to know what’s appropriate for your loved one is to ask them, and to respect their answer.
Within the family, dynamics may shift as others take over roles which the patient no longer feels able to fulfil. This can raise issues around family roles and relationships which may not have been apparent beforehand. In the long term, this kind of turbulence can help you to learn more about one another and become stronger as a family. But it can be disruptive in the short term. If you’re struggling to adapt to a new family dynamic, an accredited family counsellor can help you to explore the issues you’re experiencing in a safe, supportive manner.
HOW CAN COUNSELLING HELP YOU TO COPE WITH CANCER?
Facing a disease as scary as cancer can lead to a lot of introspection. Some cancer patients find themselves considering big and personal issues, such as their spirituality or their life direction. In the long-run, this can be a good thing. Many recovered cancer patients report that the soul-searching they did during their treatment gave them valuable self-knowledge and helped them to appreciate those things which are most important to them. However, deep introspection can also raise questions which may alter your view of yourself or your life. And big revelations like this can be tricky to deal with at such a stressful time.
If you’re finding yourself struggling with the big questions of your life at this time, or even just feeling stressed and scared, it can be helpful to see a counsellor. A good counsellor can help you to navigate your feelings and explore your thoughts in a way which feels manageable for you. They can teach you to manage your stress, calm your fears, and enable you to reach a healthier, happier understanding of your deeper self.
Certain types of counselling may also be able to help if you have phobias around aspects of your treatment. For example, some people may find cancer treatment even more difficult than usual if they have a fear of needles. An accredited counsellor with experience in treating phobias can make this a lot easier for you.
Talking to a counsellor about cancer is often a very helpful thing. It may well be the case that friends and family are too close to have an objective view of what you’re going through. A counsellor can provide an outside perspective on the issues you’re struggling with. They can also introduce you to new ways of coping with the emotional turmoil and practical trials of cancer.
If you or a loved one are battling cancer, we wish you all the very best. We also encourage you to seek help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. There are plenty of good cancer counsellors out there who will be able to guide you through this difficult time. If you’re struggling, reach out.