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Understanding Your Emotions


Cancer survivors experience a wide range of emotions and mind states with many highs and lows.

Depression, anxiety, grief, joy, anger, gratitude, post-traumatic stress disorder, post-traumatic growth, fear, and hope for the future are all commonly reported feelings in cancer survivors.

Many survivors say that these feelings change dramatically throughout the stages of their survivorship, and even during the course of one day. Emotional extremes can surface quickly and unexpectedly.

Have patience with yourself.

Some people prefer to distract themselves when difficult feelings surface. Other people choose to face their emotions to understand them more. And some decide to change their strategy moment to moment.

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The choice is your's. Each person is unique. There is no right or wrong way. However, if you feel stuck in a difficult emotional and mental place, ask for help. Don't assume you have all the skills necessary for successful coping when you are in shock.

By paying attention to your whole being, including the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of yourself, you can take steps toward improving the psychology of your survivorship and achieving greater wellness.

CISN Tips:
  • You may be on an emotional roller coaster but the ride will become smoother (if it does not get professional help)
  • Cry in the shower if you want privacy
  • Identify new forms of self-care such as permission to let go emotionally in front of loved ones and/or creating space to identify and feel your emotions privately
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Reward or pamper yourself (e.g., get a massage, treat yourself to special chocolate or ice cream, seek out nurturing company)
  • Exercise, dance, paint, write in a journal
  • Please visit the CISN Survivorship Wellness Plan section for more information.

This section discusses the following topics.
  • Loss
  • Grief
  • Anxiety & Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder and post-traumatic growth
  • What Now
  • Hope


Cancer patients experience different types of loss along their journey. Losses range from the ability to participate in some activities, relationships, a lack of control, independence, and self-esteem issues , and sometimes even physical losses i.e. losing your hair.

These losses can be very difficult.

Although there can be intense emotional pain and suffering from these losses, as one door closes, another opens.

The Chinese symbol for crisis also means opportunity.

CISN Tips:

Some strategies for dealing with loss include the following.

  • Identify the losses and honor them: Grieve when you need to
  • Acknowledge the new life that is emerging from your struggles
  • Talk with loved ones about your losses
  • Meet with a mental health professional to discuss your feelings about loss
  • Identify new activities and/or engage in old ones that you enjoy
  • Keep a Journal: Writing out and about your feelings can be a wonderful form of reflection, self-expression, and also provide a way to track your progress. This helps to "release bottled up" emotions also.
  • Breathe deeply
  • Meditate
  • Exercise
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Connect with your religious or spiritual community
  • Talk with others who have undergone similar loss.


Intense emotional suffering caused by loss is called grief. Grieving involves feeling many difficult emotions over a period of time, all of which help the person come to terms with loss. Grief takes many forms. Grief can express itself in emotions like crying, anger, guilt, anxiety, helplessness, and sadness.



Everyone grieves in his or her own way.

Grief is most often discussed in relation to cancer after the death of a loved one from the disease.

Cancer survivors have also reported feeling grief due to the changes and losses in their life as a result of the disease experience.


Steps in the grieving process:

  • Accepting what has been lost
  • Experiencing the pain associated with the loss
  • Adjusting to the new environment
  • Moving onward

Anxiety & Depression

Loss, grief, and other emotions are often mixed with feelings such as anxiety and depression.


Although uncomfortable and disturbing, it may be helpful to know that these feelings are common in many cancer survivors and generally resolve over time.

The psychology of cancer survivorship is dynamic and evolving. Feelings change moment to moment, and each day presents a new opportunity.


Some people turn to others during this period, others prefer to be alone. Some people go back and forth between these two ways of coping.

Take care of all parts of yourself including the:
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Mental
  • Spiritual

“Physically, cancer and cancer treatments are tremendously challenging, often requiring a combination of debilitating treatments that can continue for months or years. But effects on mental health are also common, with depression and anxiety disorders frequently reported.

- “Cancer Care for the Whole Patient: Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs”
by The National Academies’ Institute of Medicine, October 2007


Please visit the Survivorship Wellness Plan section for more information.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Post-Traumatic Growth

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Cancer is no doubt stressful. Some cancer patients may experience their diagnosis and its accompanying treatments as a traumatic event.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a term for an anxiety disorder that may result from a severe trauma. The diagnosis of a life-threatening illness or learning of a family member's diagnosis can be traumatic.

Symptoms of PTSD include:
  • Fear
  • Helplessness
  • Horror
  • Re-experiencing the event
  • Avoiding reminders associated with the event
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased stressful responses for at least one month.

Studies suggest that some cancer survivors and their loved ones experience PTSD. If you think that you may have PTSD, you might consider seeing a therapist, who can provide you with professional assistance for your trauma.

Post-Traumatic Growth

Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is a term for the positive life changes that can come from trauma. PTG is considered to be the opposite of PTSD.

Cancer can serve as a strong catalyst (change agent) and the great awakener. People affected by cancer report that their experience through the disease presents an opportunity for re-evaluation of their entire life.

This opportunity creates a bridge to new ways of being, living, relating, working, playing, and more.

The Best Is Yet To Come

For some patients and caregivers, the cancer experience inspires them to question their beliefs, attitudes, life goals, and relationships.

This period of re-evaluation, which can at first be traumatic, may ultimately create positive changes.

Studies suggest that some cancer survivors who endure trauma grow from their ordeal. This may include:
  • A greater appreciation of life
  • New personal strength
  • Improved ability in relating to others.
  • Move to a more fulfilling job
  • Make new friends, form new relationships

You can grow personally, and there is always opportunity for healing. For some this is termed, finding "the silver lining".

Personal Note:

After her cancer diagnosis, CISN founder Peggy decided to tackle her fear of water. She and her husband began snorkeling and now enjoy a new hobby that they both love.

What Now: Living with Uncertainty

A cancer diagnosis can turn your world upside down and create uncertainty about your ongoing health and future. You may feel a lack of stability in your life, and perhaps a lack of trust that things will continue smoothly.

People deal with uncertainty in many ways. The uncertainty you may feel can express itself in many different aspects of your life.

Although everyone is unique, certain reactions are not uncommon.

Uncertainty can be expressed in some of the following ways:
  • Fear, anxiety, depression, and other challenging emotional reactions
  • Conflict in personal relationships
  • Concerns about finances
  • Problems at work
  • High risk behavior
Methods for dealing with uncertainty include the following.
  • Know that what you are feeling is a normal reaction for some people with cancer
  • Identify your feelings
  • Remember that what you are feeling is most likely temporary since feelings and circumstances change constantly
  • Remind yourself of who you are, including your interests, passions, core beliefs, worldview, and priorities
  • Let go of what does not serve you
  • Be honest with yourself
  • Talk with loved ones about how you feel
  • Ask for help when you need it
    • Meet with a mental health professional if you need that support
  • Keep a journal
    • Writing your feelings can be a wonderful form of reflection, self-expression, and also provide a way to track your progress
  • Connect with your religious or spiritual community
    • Define your spiritual beliefs and views


Hope is the light in the darkness. Hope offers encouragement that you will persevere in the midst of your challenges. Hope is the inspiration for a better tomorrow.

People affected by cancer often feel empowered by holding onto hope.

What you hope for may change over time: Here is a selection of things some survivor’s hope for.
  • A long life
  • Better quality of life
  • Improved mental, emotional and physical
  • More support and understanding from loved ones
  • A stronger religious or spiritual connection
What do you hope for?

Defining what you want and remaining hopeful, helps build a bridge toward a brighter horizon.

The journey with, through, and beyond cancer often contains extremes between uncertainty and hope. Each moment is a new opportunity to honor your feelings and also choose how you want to feel.

Our Hope for You: Beauty, peace and love.



Anger is often experienced after a cancer diagnosis. In a sense, it is similar to the anger experienced by persons grieving a loss such as a death. Once a patient receives a cancer diagnosis, his or her life will never be the same. That is a loss of how life was - before cancer. A person can do everything right, i.e. watch their diet and weight, have the appropriate tests (i.e. mammograms, colonoscopy, etc.) and still get the disease. It seems unfair and can make one angry.

Sometimes, spouses of someone who has cancer, will get angry at their loved ones because they have it ..and may die and leave them. Again, it's anger at a loss of life as they knew it, and possibly their loved one.

Anger is a response to fear. Cancer is frightening and the future is unknown. It can be a response to losing control or having to face one's mortality. The most important thing to remember is that it is normal to feel anger.



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