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Emotional

Your Emotions

Throughout the rest of your life it's common to experience a wide range of emotions related to your cancer diagnosis and treatment. You may feel relief, anxiety, confusion, fear, anger and even depression. You can, however, take comfort in the knowledge that, with time, these emotions should subside.

You may also experience a variety of positive emotions - pride, hope, joy, happiness and excitement about your future. You have faced fear and have gained strength, courage and confidence. This feeling of triumph and confidence does not always come easily; it may take time to recognize your own unique experience and understand its impact.

Studies show that cancer survivors are more adaptable to life's stresses and seem quite resilient. However, it’s not uncommon to experience depression, anxiety, fear or post-traumatic stress at some point. Some of these experiences may be normal and fleeting; others may compromise your life to some extent, while still others may make normal life experiences difficult or endanger your well-being.

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Dealing with Stress and Anxiety

You may think stress and anxiety will disappear once treatment is completed but for many survivors, anxiety increases when treatment ends. (Schlessel-Harpham, 1994). Losing constant contact with your healthcare team, for example, can be frightening. Also, your friends and family may not understand that cancer is still part of your life even though treatment has ended. The potential of recurrence, medical late effects, fertility and psychological changes may also cause anxiety. You may also experience anxiety because it is now finally safe to allow yourself to feel all the feelings held back during treatment.

Whatever the cause, remember that anxiety and stress are common feelings. Here are suggestions for relieving anxiety and maintaining a healthier lifestyle:

  • Exercise. Aerobic exercise releases endorphins and other healing chemicals that reduce stress. You should aim for 30 minutes of exercise at least four times a week.
  • Eat healthy. What you eat affects how you feel. Eating foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol and sugar has a negative impact on your emotions and on your overall health.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. Alcohol masks true feelings and can cause other health complications.
  • Avoid stimulants. Limit caffeine intake (coffee, tea, soda) and use of decongestant medications.
  • Get enough sleep
  • Enjoy a hobby. This may be something you can do alone like knitting, painting, singing or gardening, or it may involve others, such as joining a book club or sports team.
  • Talk about your concerns
  • Learn relaxation techniques
  • Learn to pace yourself and set priorities
  • Make time for enjoyable activities
  • Join a support group or talk with a friend, counselor or clergy member

Fear of recurrence is very real and may be intense for many cancer survivors. It’s extremely important you don’t let fear prevent you from living a happy and healthy life. You can take steps to cope with fears of recurrence (Schlessel-Harpham, 1994):

  • Find out your actual risk of recurrence.
  • Seek information about how to reducing your chance of recurrence.
  • Be willing to have potential problems evaluated by a professional.
  • Talk about your fears with others.

Additional information can be found here:

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Cancer diagnosis and treatment may lead to feelings of helplessness and anxiety. Unfortunately, studies show ignoring these feelings may actually increase the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Kazak et al., 1997). PTSD is estimated to occur in as many as one-fifth of all pediatric cancer patients (President's Cancer Panel, p. 45). Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Recurring and distressing dreams or recollections about the traumatic event
  • Inability to recall important aspects of the trauma
  • Heightened arousal, such as nausea or increased heart rate, triggered by reminders of the original experience
  • Feelings of detachment from others
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Intrusive, unwanted thoughts
  • Avoidance of stress-inducing settings and situations

If you feel that you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, you may want to contact a professional counselor or your hospital social worker. For a list of specialists and support groups in your area, contact the National Association of Social Workers or the American Psychological Association at 800-964-2000.

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Dealing with Depression

Disappointment, fatigue and loneliness are typical reactions to the experiences you have faced. Future events, such as the anniversary of your diagnosis can also trigger these feelings. While sadness is an emotion everyone experiences from time to time, it's important to distinguish between normal and abnormal levels of sadness and depression.

Symptoms of Depression:

  • Loss of pleasure and interest in most activities
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Nervousness or sluggishness
  • Tiredness
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much

Many survivors experience these symptoms in the years following treatment, but they usually lessen with time. If these symptoms persist or affect your social relationships or ability to work, contact a professional counselor. Counselors or social workers can be located through professional organizations, such as the National Association of Social Workers or the American Counseling Association at 800-347-6647. If you have suicidal thoughts, contact a suicide hotline immediately.

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Attending a Support Group

It is normal to experience a variety of emotions regarding cancer and survivorship. A support group can be an excellent place to talk about feelings and connect with people sharing similar emotions. Group participants share information, provide emotional support and inspiration and help boost one another’s sense of self-worth. For those who feel physically and emotionally healthy, support groups are also a good place to support others by sharing your experience.

The National Cancer Institute recommends you ask yourself the following questions to help determine if joining a cancer survivor’s group is right for you:

  • Are you comfortable sharing your feelings with others in a similar situation?
  • Are you interested in hearing others’ stories about their experiences?
  • Could you benefit from the experience of others in similar situations?
  • Do you enjoy being part of a group?
  • Do you have helpful information or advice to share with others?
  • Would reaching out to other cancer survivors provide personal satisfaction?
  • Are you interested in learning more about cancer and the issues survivors face?

Every support group has a unique make-up and focus. Even the same group can differ from one meeting to the next. Factors affecting the group include the people in attendance, those in charge of the group and the topics discussed. Consider attending a group at least twice before deciding whether or not to join (Schlessel-Harpham, 1994). If you are looking for a support group and having difficulty finding one in your area, e-mail The National Children’s Cancer Society at survivor@children-cancer.org. You might also consider an online support network. Other sources of support include:

  • A clinical social worker, psychologist, nurse therapist, psychiatrist or clergy member.
  • Your family and friends. Help them understand how they can help you.
  • Yourself. Draw on your own strength. Read books or online stories written by other cancer survivors.
  • Helping others. This not only relieves isolation but also provides opportunities to discuss your feelings, which can help you feel stronger and more in control.

Additional information can be found here:

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