Managing the Emotional Side of Cancer

Hearing the words “You have cancer” can be overwhelming—flooding you with such feelings as shock, fear, guilt, numbness, confusion and anger.

Recovering from cancer involves both physical and emotional healing. Learning to manage the stress and anxiety can be as important to your body’s ability to fight cancer as your medical treatment.

Many patients tell us that dealing with their emotions is the most difficult part of their cancer experience. This was a major consideration in designing Henry Ford Allegiance Health’s Gayle M. Jacob Cancer Center as a physically and emotionally healing environment. It is also central to the care plans developed by our physicians and staff.

"You Have Cancer"

Hearing the words “You have cancer” can be overwhelming in itself—flooding you with such feelings as shock, fear, guilt, numbness, confusion and anger. The diagnosis will affect each person differently—not only patients but also their family and friends. And each will deal with these feelings in his or her own way.

All the thoughts, fears and worries that may be going though your mind are a normal part of the healing process. It is important that you express these feelings instead of trying to ignore them. The support of those closest to you is critical at this time, and you will likely find it helpful to bring a trusted person with you on your doctor visits. It might also help to talk with other people who have experienced cancer. Ask your doctor or patient navigator if one-on-one support is available and also ask for information on support groups.

Enduring Cancer Treatment

Cancer treatment can be lengthy and complex, but it will become part of your routine, and you will get to know and feel comfortable with your care team. During this time, there are many things you can do for yourself to help ensure you get the most from your treatment. These include taking moments in your day to clear your thoughts with mindfulness and meditation, to relax by practicing deep breathing, go for walks and enjoy the fresh air, listen to soothing music, do gentle stretching exercises or write in a journal.

Life After Treatment

When cancer treatment is completed, it is very common to feel a bit lost and unsure about leaving the safety of a medical setting to face the future on your own. it is also normal to worry that the cancer might return, even if you are feeling healthy. These fears usually lessen over time, but they may not go away entirely. There are, however, ways to help manage your feelings

Ask your doctor what you can do to lower your chances for recurrence, be diligent about going to your follow-up visits, continue to make healthy choices regarding food and physical activity. Not only with these things help you maintain your optimum level of health, they may also help you feel more in control of your life. 

While a mix of emotions is normal and expected in those experiencing cancer treatment and follow-up, you can reach a level of distress that is too high. It is important to be aware of warning signs of depression. Remember to stay active and keep connected with friends and family.


Did you find the emotional side of cancer as challenging as the physical? What did you learn about yourself? Share your experience in the comment section below.

There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer. But you may help lower your risk by maintaining a healthy body weight, limiting how much alcohol you drink and getting regular exercise.