Whether you had cancer, have cancer now, or are a loved one of someone affected by cancer, many times we feel like we do NOT want to talk about it. There are many reasons for it and you need to respect that decision. Some feel scared of the possibility of losing their lives. Others do not want to have their condition be at the forefront of every conversation. It is already tough trying to live a “normal” life and fighting to live life fully, for as long as they can.
Others want to share the feelings of not talking openly about their cancer situation with others in the same situation – being an inoperable brain tumor (benign or not), breast cancer condition, prostate or testicular cancer, the aggressive pancreatic and liver cancers, or others. There is a feeling of discomfort due to the external symptoms of the cancer condition. More private conversations take place that better help with the healing and coping with the illness. All one can do is offer an opportunity to talk. If the patient is not ready, feel uncomfortable, or is more selective about to whom they want to talk about their condition, one must not bring added stress by insisting. However, if they do want to talk, be an active listener. Most times that’s all we need.
If you are ready to talk about your feelings about cancer, here are some general recommendations:
Talking about your feelings can help you deal with your cancer.
- Choose a good listener.
- Choose a good time to share your feelings.
- Understand your feelings of anger.
- Be truthful to what your feelings are.
You may need to find someone outside your family to talk to. Cancer may be too much to handle all by yourself.
Friends and Family Have Feelings About Your Cancer
Just as you have strong feelings about cancer, your family or friends will react to it as well. For instance, your friends or family may:
- hide or deny their sad feelings
- find someone to blame for your cancer
- change the subject when someone talks about cancer
- act mad for no real reason
- make jokes about cancer
- pretend to be cheerful all the time
- avoid talking about your cancer
- stay away from you, or keep their visits short
Finding a Good Listener
It can be hard to talk about how it feels to have cancer. But talking can help, even though it’s hard to do. Many people find that they feel better when they share their thoughts and feelings with their close family and friends.
Friends and family members may not always know what to say to you. Sometimes they can help by just being good listeners. They don’t always need to give you advice or tell you what they think. They simply need to show that they care and are concerned about you.
You might find it helpful to talk about your feelings with people who aren’t family or friends. Instead, you might want to meet in a support group with others who have cancer or talk with a counselor. You can find more information about where to go for help in “People Helping People”.
A single arrow is easily broken, but not ten in a bundle.
Choosing a Good Time to Talk
Some people need time before they can talk about their feelings. If you aren’t ready, you might say, “I don’t feel like talking about my cancer right now. Maybe I will later.” And sometimes when you want to talk, your family and friends may not be ready to listen.
It’s often hard for other people to know when to talk about cancer.
Sometimes people send a signal when they want to talk. They might:
- bring up the subject of cancer
- talk about things that have to do with cancer, such as a newspaper story about a new cancer treatment that they just read
- spend more time with you
- act nervous or make jokes that aren’t very funny
You can help people feel more comfortable by asking them what they think or how they feel. Sometimes people can’t put their feelings into words. Sometimes, they just want to hug each other or cry together.
A man with stomach cancer said,
“It was really hard to get my sister to talk about my cancer. Finally, I just said to her, ‘I know you’re really worried and scared. So am I. Let’s talk about it.’ She was so relieved that I had brought the subject up.”
Many people feel angry or frustrated when they deal with cancer. You might find that you get mad or upset with the people you depend on. You may get upset with small things that never bothered you before.
People can’t always express their feelings. Anger sometimes shows up as actions instead of words. You may find that you yell a lot at the kids or the dog. You might slam doors.
Try to figure out why you are angry. Maybe you’re afraid of the cancer or are worried about money. You might even be angry about your treatment. A man with advanced cancer said,
“I got so angry some days that I just wanted to take it out on something. On those days, I always tried to be angry at my cancer, not at my wife and daughter.”
When anger rises, think of the consequences. –Confucius
Be True to Your Feelings
Some people pretend to be cheerful, even when they’re not. They think that they won’t feel sad or angry if they act cheerful. Or they want to seem as if they’re able to handle the cancer themselves. Also, your family and friends may not want to upset you and will act as if nothing is bothering them. You may even think that being cheerful may help your cancer go away.
When you have cancer, you have many reasons to be upset. “Down days” are to be expected. You don’t have to pretend to be cheerful when you’re not. This can keep you from getting the help you need. Be honest and talk about all your feelings, not just the positive ones. An older woman with liver cancer said,
“The advice of well-meaning friends to be positive, optimistic, and upbeat can also be a call for silence. Ask them about it. Don’t let them force you to put on a fake smile when that’s the last thing you feel like doing.”
Sharing Without Talking
For many, it’s hard to talk about being sick. Others feel that cancer is a personal or private matter and find it hard to talk openly about it. If talking is hard for you, think about other ways to share your feelings. For instance, you may find it helpful to write about your feelings. This might be a good time to start a journal, a personal blog, or diary if you don’t already have one. Writing about your feelings is a good way to sort through them and a good way to begin to deal with them. All you need to get started is something to write with and something to write on.
Journals can be personal or shared. People can use a journal as a way of ‘talking’ to each other. If you find it hard to talk to someone near to you about your cancer try starting a shared journal. Leave a booklet or pad in a private place that both of you select. When you need to share, write in it and return it to the private place. Your loved one will do the same. Both of you will be able to know how the other is feeling without having to speak aloud.
If you have e-mail, this can also be a good way to share without talking.
Summing Up: Sharing Your Thoughts and Feelings About Cancer
Cancer is hard to deal with all alone. Although talking about it may not be easy at first, most people find that sharing their thoughts and feelings helps them deal with their cancer.
Keep in mind:
- Choose a good listener. You may not need someone to give you advice or tell you what to do. Instead, you may want someone who wants to hear about and try to understand what life is like for you right now. You may need to look outside your family to find such a person.
- Choose a good time to share. Sometimes people will send signals to let you know they’re willing to talk about cancer with you. Sometimes you can ask others about their thoughts and feelings.
- Understand anger. Sometimes angry words come from emotions other than anger, like frustration, worry, or sadness. Try to figure out why you feel angry and why you need to express it. Don’t run away from these feelings–share them and try to understand them.
- Be true to your feelings. Remember that it’s okay to be in a bad mood. Acting cheerful won’t give others a real picture of how you feel, and holding in your true feelings may even be harmful.
Turn to community resources for help. A support group or a counselor might be able to provide more support.