When receiving a cancer diagnosis and going through treatment and its side effects it can be very difficult to process all that is happening to you in the moment.
You have responsibilities as a young adult and you have commitments to keep – studies, work, family. Life just keeps coming at you and you battle to juggle real life’s demands and a cancer diagnois and treatment.
Worrying about the future is natural when you have cancer, and it may be hard to feel hopeful that you will recover.
Depression and Anxiety
It is common for cancer patients of all ages to develop anxiety and depression. People who are depressed are not faking it and it is a condition that should be treated seriously.
Signs of depression may include:
- withdrawal and loss of interest in others and activities you used to enjoy
- a drop in performance – in your studies, in sport, or a hobby
- concentration and memory difficulties
- feeling disconnected and that nothing matters
- increased sensitivity to overstimulating sights, sounds, smells or touch
- irritability or mood swings
- nervousness or fear
- sleep or appetite changes
- feeling constantly tired
- out of character behaviour
While everyone may experience one or two of these symptoms from time to time, if the signs are there over a longer period of time and don’t diminish in intensity, it is likely that the person experiencing this is struggling with depression and will need support to overcome it. Failing to do so may decrease a patient’s chance of recovery from cancer.*
*Source: CANSA Fact Sheet: Cancer and Mental Health
Guilt and Fear
You may blame yourself for your illness or believe that you are being punished for things you have said or done. Remember that cancer is a complicated disease and there is never one thing that could cause it.
Cancer can affect anyone regardless of race, gender, age, or beliefs.
- Stop blaming yourself for things beyond your control and rather spend your energy and time on things that will help you recover.
- Keep your mind busy with things that calm you and make you feel positive.
Mariska Schultz, 15 yrs at diagnosis and now a young adult, “We have to remember that cancer does not define us. It is merely something that has happened to us…we can choose how we want to live our lives after cancer…we can choose to forget about it completely or to embrace the lessons we learned and help others.”
Although cancer patients who have gone through treatment are happy to be alive, some may feel guilty that they survived cancer and others didn’t. It’s hard to lose fellow patients who have become friends.
- There are some questions we will never know the answer to.
- Instead of wasting your energy on feeling guilty for something you could not control, refocus your thoughts on what you are going to do with your life now that you have been given a second chance at life.
Fortune Manama, cancer Survivor 13 yrs old at the time of diagnosis and now in university, says, “Seeing so many of my ward friends pass away, I know I owe it to them to live my life to the fullest every day!”
Agrippa Ngobeni, cancer Survivor diagnosed in Gr.10, shares, “I never thought I’d live past 18, now I am 25! It seems as if I have much more life ahead than I thought possible.”
Fear of the future and what lies ahead is normal. Don’t let your fears get the best of you. Face them head on – acknowledge they are real and that they are there.
Fear can include fear of the unknown, disfigurement, death, loss of independence, pain, change in intimacy or a relationship, financial loss, that your children or life partner will not be able to cope, or that cancer may return.
- Acknowledging something or bringing it out into the open helps it “lose its power” to a certain extent.
- List your fears honestly in a journal and date your entries. You may be surprised that in a few months time you can write an update next to a previous entry of how you have overcome that particular fear.
- Discuss your fears with people you can trust. When something is bottled up inside us it festers. When we release it healing may begin.
Mariska Schultz, cancer Survivor diagnosed at 15 yrs and now a young adult, says, “I want to leave you with one phrase. I feel like it is something to live by when going through tough times and hardship. It is ‘one day at a time’, don’t fret too much about tomorrow, but get through each day in good health.”
Anger and Grief
You may feel angry, because you believe it is unfair that you have been diagnosed with cancer and that you did not deserve this.
- Anger is the “red warning light” or an outward display of emotion indicating that we are struggling to process or come to terms with something.
- Take a moment to dig deeper and identify the reason you are angry.
- Once you have identified the cause of your anger release it in a safe, helpful way. For example, scream into a pillow or punch it, write an “angry” poem or journal entry, paint or scribble a crazy picture, sing or dance along to a song that helps you vent your feelings – “your war cry or fight song”, or talk honestly to someone you trust.
- If you cover up your true feelings by joking around, at some point your anger will escape, usually when you would least like for it to do so.
Grief is often associated with losing a loved one or a pet. However, there are many other things you grieve when you lose them:
- good health
- a limb or other body part
- quality of life
- family time
- loved ones (separation from or death of)
- beloved pets (seperation from or death of)
- mental or creative stimulation
- sexual intimacy
- add your own personal losses
- Acknowledge the loss – share it with someone you trust or write it down.
- If someone hurt you and you lost that relationship write a “never send” letter to that person expressing all you feel – avoid confrontation – you have enough on your plate, focus on getting better first.
- If your life has changed dramatically in some way, try to look for ways to make the most of your new lifestyle and connect with others that have gone through similar challenges – find your tribe…
- If you can’t do the activities you used to enjoy – ask yourself which activities are you able to do now, and do them.
- If you have lost a loved one to death, find ways to keep their memory alive and to celebrate them. Even if others do not speak about them anymore, does not mean you have to do the same.
- If you are separated from a loved one or friend, discuss ways that suit both of you to connect regularly. With true friends “out of sight is not out of mind”.
Help is at Hand
1) Please don’t try to go it alone – it takes immense strength to reach out for support. Find out more about our AYA helplines and support groups…
2) Take back control – if you know your rights you will feel better equipped to deal with uncertainties and to speak up for yourself.
3) Keep on keeping on – even small progress, is considered progress – as long as you are moving and not standing still…
4) Read stories of hope shared by others who have walked a similar path. Hold on to HOPE…