You know that phrase ‘emotional rollercoaster’? That could have been invented to describe what it’s like to have cancer. You might experience all kinds of emotions. Sometimes you might not even be sure what it is you’re feeling or why. The main thing to remember is there’s no right or wrong way to feel. Whatever you’re going through is 100% normal.
Maybe you’re feeling shocked, or scared, or uncertain, or angry, or sad, or frustrated or even guilty. Maybe you’re embarrassed, or jealous, or lonely, or withdrawn. Maybe you’ve felt all of these things today.
If you have, it’s totally normal. You might find people tell you how important it is to stay positive, but it’s natural to have good days and bad days. No one expects you to wake up happy every day. Sometimes a good cry can make you feel better.
As hard as it might sound, trying to express what you’re going through can help. And while everyone is different, you might also find it useful to:
Learn more about cancer
Ask questions if you’re feeling unsure about anything
Get involved in decisions about your treatment
Avoid people who make you feel stressed or embarrassed
Do the things you used to do, if you can
Get creative with painting, blogging, writing or music
Get organised with a weekly to-do list
Watch comedies and hang out with funny friends
Exercise when you feel up to it
Have a makeover
Try something new
Get plenty of sleep
Have a daily routine
Accept help when you need it
Join a support group
Focusing on what helps you cope can really lift your mood and put a smile on your face.
If you find yourself feeling low over a long period and it starts to affect your everyday life, it could be a sign that you are experiencing depression. If that’s the case for you, try to tell someone. It’s not easy, but pretending you’re OK when you’re not is exhausting – and help is available to support you through this.
You could try speaking to friends, family, or someone in the medical team such as a clinical nurse specialist, Youth Support Coordinator, psychologist or counsellor. Try to talk to someone who will listen, be there when you need them, not judge you or try to solve everything, and keep things private if you want them to.
If you feel up to it, exercise can help lift your mood. So can setting small, realistic goals, staying close to people you care about and consciously trying to break the cycle of negative thoughts.
There are also support groups for young people who have or have had cancer. A lot of people find it helps to chat to people who’ve been through similar things.
If your depression is severe, you could find yourself experiencing suicidal thoughts. If that happens to you, it’s really important to get help. Tell a member of your treatment team, go to A&E or call 999. Samaritans are also always ready to talk 24/7 on 116 123.
Whatever you do, try to remember you’re not alone. There is a huge amount of support available to help you get through this.
It would be strange not to feel anxious when you have cancer. You might find this makes it hard to concentrate and sleep, and you might feel more irritable than usual.
It can help to:
Learn an effective breathing technique – for example breathing out for two seconds longer than you breathe in for at least five breaths
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking as these quicken your heart rate
Do some exercise you enjoy
Picture images or scenes that make you feel relaxed
Ask your care team about apps to help with anxiety
If your anxiety is really intense, it might show itself as a panic attack. Common symptoms include a pounding heart, trouble breathing, feeling faint, shaky and sick, and diarrhoea.
Breathing techniques can really help during a panic attack. They help get rid of the adrenaline filling your body and distract you from the thoughts making you panic.
It’s hard not to be affected if cancer changes how you look. Worrying about your appearance doesn’t make you vain or self-obsessed. It just makes you human.
Over time, the way you feel about your body will probably start to improve. In the meantime you could:
Try a new look. Find your style with a wig, hat or some new clothes.
Experiment with make-up. Small changes can make you feel very different.
Hang out with the right people. Good friends make you feel good about yourself.
Talk about your feelings. Don’t bottle things up. People will only know you’re worried if you tell them.
Remember you’re still the same. Cancer might change how you look, but it doesn’t change who you are
Being surrounded by people doesn’t always stop you feeling lonely, and there might be times you feel like no one really gets what you’re going through. It’s easy to feel on your own if it seems like you’re growing up faster than your friends or you need to have time off school or work.
It’s a good idea to try and let people know how you’re feeling. It can help to talk to other young people in a similar situation too. Macmillan’s Online Community has discussions for people diagnosed at a young age, and organisations including Youth Cancer Trust also offer free holidays for young people with cancer.
It’s totally normal to worry about your cancer coming back after treatment has ended. But it can become a problem if those fears mean you struggle to make plans or enjoy life fully.
People like clinical psychologists and counsellors are not just there for you during treatment. It can really help to talk to them afterwards too. They can suggest ways to manage your anxieties and accept your feelings.
Living with uncertainty is tough, but it does get easier. It’s likely you’ll think about cancer less as time passes.
These aren’t medical terms, but some people say during chemo they get spaced out, struggle to concentrate or find it hard to think clearly. If you feel like this, keep yourself safe – no driving. Putting reminders in your phone or a diary can help. Symptoms tend to improve after chemo too, but talk to your care team if you’re worried.
Cancer can leave you feeling exhausted, so you’d think sleeping would be easy. Sadly it’s not always that simple. Here are some ideas to try if you’re struggling to sleep.
Have a routine – Go to bed and wake up at the same time so your body knows what to expect.
Relax in the evenings – Watch a film. Listen to music. Do whatever makes you feel calm.
Watch what you drink – Try milk or water rather than coffee, coke, energy drinks or alcohol, which can all affect your sleep.
Exercise – Even a little physical activity can help you feel ready for sleep.
Write down difficult thoughts – rather than lying awake going over them again and again
Switch off – Leave your phone in another room and make your bedroom just for sleeping
Give up easily – If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, read or listen to music to relax then try again.