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. And 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 people feel relieved; you may have suspected something was wrong and now you know what it is. A diagnosis of cancer can also lead people to question their values and priorities, as well as the meaning of their life.

There is no right or wrong way to react when you are told your cancer is too advanced to cure. Everyone responds in their own way. Give yourself time to take in what is happening.

   − Roberta

Feelings you may experience

Denial An advanced cancer diagnosis can be hard to accept. Denial can give you time to adjust, but 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 to begin with. 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 or because you weren’t diagnosed earlier. Sometimes it may even be difficult to pinpoint 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
Feeling sad after a cancer diagnosis is common. If you feel continually sad or down for two or more weeks and are not enjoying or interested in your usual activities, or are unmotivated, talk to your doctor – you may be experiencing depression.

This information was last reviewed in December 2016
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