Updated 03 April 2017

Living with cancer - emotional issues

Being diagnosed with cancer is traumatic to most people. Here are some tips on dealing with the emotional issues surrounding this.


There are so many different aspect of living with cancer – from the pure medical issues, to emotional aspects, to the impact on the family as well as daily living considerations.

Are you sitting down? Accept that getting a cancer diagnosis is a shock to the system and people often go through the normal stages of grieving – from denial, bargaining, anger and depression and finally acceptance. How you deal with this depends much on the type of person you are and how they have dealt with similar issues in your life.

Don’t go it alone. There are people who are professional counselors specifically trained to deal with people who have cancer. Sometimes it may be difficult to speak about your real feelings to family or friends, because they are also emotionally involved. A counsellor is there for you and will help you come to terms with the things that you may be struggling with in a caring but neutral environment. Contact the nearest branch of CANSA for a referral to a counsellor.

Join a support group. These are invaluable. Support groups go a long way towards helping people deal with the psychological aspects of living with cancer. Sharing experiences with people who are also experiencing firsthand what you are going through, goes a long way towards making things easier to live with. Here you can freely speak your mind without fearing that what you say might affect your relationships at home or with friends.

Deal with depression. Accept that there will be times when you feel lonely, depressed and sad. If you never feel this way, you are probably not facing up to the situation. Don’t feel guilty when you feel depressed – it is a normal reaction in the situation. Learn to recognise the signs of depression – early awakening, excessive sleeping, a change in eating habits, a lack of interest in things that formerly interested you, a feeling of continuous fatigue – and take action when they continue for longer than two weeks.

Family matters. Families will react in very different ways. In crises families tend to behave the way they always do, just more pronouncedly so. If a family is into avoidance, this is how this situation will be dealt with. Or if they are generally supportive, that will be the main trait of how they deal with a cancer diagnosis in one of the members of the family. Family counselling might ease the situation for everyone.

Decisions, decisions. It is possible that practical things may change for a while and that the person with cancer may need extra assistance and care. Discuss the options and deal with practical issues such as transport to and from medical appointments, possible home nursing if necessary, what to tell friends and family, medical costs, leave from work, the division of the household tasks for the time the family member with cancer may not be able to perform his/her share of the housework. There is no point at all in avoiding these topics as they are much easier to discuss beforehand than when they arise.

(Liesel Powell, Health24)

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CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst. For more information, visit

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