Nothing can prepare you for a diagnosis of cancer. With it comes a flood of stressful emotions – shock, disbelief, anger, depression, hopelessness, fear, denial, etc. At first, it may be difficult to comprehend that you have cancer. Many people feel the diagnosis just “comes out of nowhere” and “knocks the emotional wind out of you.” Especially in the beginning, when things just seem to be happening too fast, you may feel as if you are losing control. It’s a very troubling and stressful time for the whole family.
Shock and disbelief are especially common reactions to the diagnosis of colorectal cancer because many people have no warning signs. Patients often say, “How could this be happening to me? I feel fine. I had no clue.” Colorectal cancer is commonly discovered during routine examinations and blood tests in patients who are otherwise feeling well. Some people actually deny the reality of their disease, refusing to accept the diagnosis. “This isn’t happening to me. It’s impossible.” If they persist in denying the reality of their colorectal cancer, it can interfere with their treatment and survival.
Fear is another emotion colorectal cancer patients and their loved ones face. They’re afraid of what lies ahead. They’re afraid because they don’t know if the cancer has spread. They fear having to wear a colostomy, an external sack for waste removal. (Most patients today do not need a colostomy.) They fear becoming a burden on their families. Most commonly, they fear dying because we associate the word cancer with death.
You may also feel hopeless about your condition. The word cancer traditionally isn’t associated with hope. However, there is plenty to be hopeful about. Today, the cure rate for colorectal cancer diagnosed and treated early is 90 percent. New and more effective treatments are being developed every day. In addition, dozens of cancer survivor groups can provide you with valuable information and emotional support.
All your feelings and reactions are normal and understandable. However, it’s important to recognize and cope with your feelings because negative emotions can be very detrimental to your health. Anxiety and stress can lead to lack of sleep, poor appetite, weight loss, poor judgment, and make you physically sick. Research has shown that stress like that caused by negative emotions can depress the immune system and make recovery more difficult. With help from your loved ones and your doctors, it’s possible to gain some perspective on your feelings and focus on the positive factors that can help you beat colorectal cancer.
During this difficult time, it’s the people closest to you who will be your best supporters. Do not be afraid to lean on or open up to them. They want to help. Often people can help by listening or just being there.
Here are some tips for getting the support you need and coping with the emotional side of your condition:
1. Assemble your support team. Think about who is closest to you – friends, family, co-workers. Who do you feel comfortable talking with? Who might be available to help you with practical matters like driving you to doctor visits? Make a list of people you’d like on your support team. Then ask them if they’ll be available for you during this difficult time.
2. Talk about how you feel. Tell your spouse/partner, family, friends, and other members of your support team about your anxieties and fears. Don’t try to “protect” your loved ones by keeping your feelings bottled up inside. It helps to get your feelings out in the open. Let them talk about their fears, too.
3. Don’t be shy. Cancer is difficult to talk about. This is especially true of colorectal cancers. People shy away from talking about anything affecting their bowels. Friends, family, and coworkers may find it awkward in the beginning to talk about your condition because of their own anxieties and fears. Talking about your colorectal cancer will help remove the stigma.
4. Avoid blaming yourself. It’s nobody’s “fault” that you have colorectal cancer. Avoid playing the “blame game” and concentrate on getting better.
5. Let others know what you need. Maybe you need someone to talk with, someone to take care of the children, or a ride to the doctor’s office. Let your friends and family know how they can support you.
6. Look for the positive. Focus on the fact that the cancer was diagnosed early and there is a very good chance of being cured. Or concentrate on the fact that new and better treatments are being developed every day. Staying positive won’t guarantee you’ll beat the disease, but it’ll make it easier to cope.