If you or one of your loved one has cancer, it is normal to experience some amount of distress. To some extent, cancer-related distress is because of the fears and attitudes people generally have about cancer. For instance, one of the greatest fears people have is that a cancer diagnosis implies death. But it is wrong to make misleading assumptions that cancer always results in the death of the patient. Currently, around 11 million Americans who were earlier diagnosed with cancer are alive.
The word “distress” has several different meanings. Here, this word will be used to describe unpleasant emotions and feelings that may create problems for you while you are trying to manage your cancer and its treatment. Family members and friends of cancer patients are also likely to experience distress. It is often difficult to cope with the variety of changes occurring in your life as a result of cancer in a loved one.
If you are distressed, it may imply that you feel:
The stress you experience while trying to cope with cancer can affect other areas of your life as well, apart from your feelings. Its effects may be noticeable on your thoughts, your actions and behavior and your interactions with other people.
It is normal for people to feel disturbed when they come to know that they have cancer – irrespective of the significant advancements made in cancer treatment. All of a sudden, many different aspects of life start to appear vague and uncertain. People with cancer are afraid and concerned about the potential changes that may happen in their body. They may be concerned about how their family members and friends will deal with their cancer and all the unexpected or unpleasant things they may experience. More often, people with cancer are worried about the future. They often wonder, “Why me?” and “Will I die?”
Once you know that you or one of your family members has cancer, you may not feel safe any longer. You may feel vulnerable, exposed, weak, and afraid. These feelings normally last throughout the duration of the treatment and may be accompanied by sadness and anxiety.
It is quite normal to be worried while you are waiting to receive the first treatment. “It was one of the worst times for me when I was waiting to be administered my first chemo treatment,” said a cancer patient. “However, I felt okay when the treatment was over because it was not as bad as I had thought it would be. I started feeling better because I was finally taking appropriate steps to fight cancer.” Waiting for cancer surgery can also be an unpleasant experience. Often, people not only worry about the cancer, but also about whether their cancer is constantly growing as they wait for the surgery. Your fears related to the potential changes that can occur in your body as a result of surgery can also contribute significantly to your distress. Also, you may be concerned about home and work life and how they may change due to the cancer. Financial and insurance issues may also add to your concerns.
For some patients, their most difficult time comes after their cancer treatment. Instead of feeling happy about the fact that treatment is finally over, they start feeling even more distressed. As one patient said, “Now I am on my own, and I am simply trying to make out what might happen next.” It can be quite scary to visit the oncologist (cancer doctor) when the treatment is over. Almost everyone seems afraid that their cancer will come back (recur). Feelings like this are normal, too. “Each time I experience aches and pains, I feel as if the cancer is coming back – even when it is just some random pain in my big toe,” said one patient.