- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Living with advanced cancer
- The emotional impact
- First reactions
When you are first told, or come to realise, that you have advanced cancer, you may feel a range of emotions.
If you didn’t know you had cancer at all, a diagnosis of advanced cancer can sometimes feel like a double blow. If you’ve already been treated for cancer, you may experience different, possibly stronger reactions than when you heard for the first time that you had cancer. Sometimes you may even feel relieved – you may have suspected there was something wrong and now you know why.
There is no one way to react when you are told that the cancer is too advanced to cure. Everyone is different and will respond in their own way. Give yourself time to take in what is happening and do what is comfortable for you. Whatever you are feeling, it is likely those around you may be experiencing similar emotions.
Feelings you may experience
You may have a range of emotions, including:
|Denial||A diagnosis of advanced cancer can be hard to accept. Some people deny the cancer can’t be cured or that treatment options are limited. Denial can give you time to adjust to the news, but if it’s ongoing it can also delay you from getting treatment or help.|
|Fear or anxiety||It is frightening to hear the cancer has come back, has spread or is at an advanced stage at diagnosis. Fear or anxiety (a feeling of worry or unease) may occur from the shock of diagnosis or having thoughts about dying.|
|Anger||You may feel angry because you’ve had to deal with cancer already, because you weren’t diagnosed earlier, or because you feel your life has been shortened. Sometimes it may even be hard to work out exactly what your anger is about.|
|Guilt||It’s common to blame yourself for the cancer, but the reason cancer spreads or doesn’t respond to treatment is usually unknown. You may be worried about the impact cancer could have on your family or feel guilty that they may have to take care of you.|
|Uncertainty||You may feel you have less control over your life. It can be hard to adjust to an uncertain future, although some people may also feel a sense of hope in the uncertainty.|
|Loneliness||You may feel lonely at times even if you have people around you. It’s natural to think nobody understands what you’re going through. Your family and friends may have trouble dealing with the diagnosis and some may even distance themselves from you.|
|Sadness or depression||Feeling sad after a cancer diagnosis is common. If you have continued feelings of sadness, have trouble getting up in the morning or have lost motivation to do things that previously gave you pleasure, talk to your doctor – you may be experiencing depression.|
Prof Nicholas Glasgow, Head, Calvary Palliative and End of Life Care Research Institute, ACT; Kathryn Bennett, Nurse Practitioner, Eastern Palliative Care Association Inc., VIC; Dr Maria Ftanou, Head, Clinical Psychology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, VIC; Erin Ireland, Legal Counsel, Cancer Council NSW; Nikki Johnston, Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner, Clare Holland House, Calvary Public Hospital Bruce, ACT; Judy Margolis, Consumer; Linda Nolte, Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kate Reed- Cox, Nurse Practitioner, National Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia; Helena Rodi, Project Manager, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kaitlyn Thorne, Coordinator Cancer Support, 13 11 20, Cancer Council Queensland.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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