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Your Emotions

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Your loved one has just been diagnosed with cancer. Emotions are running high. Your first reaction is no doubt one of shock and disbelief; how can this be happening to you? Next, you may feel anger, then sadness, and then every emotion all at the same time.

Being emotional after a cancer diagnosis is normal, for everyone involved. Cancer is a scary word, and the reality can be even more frightening, even for adults. Factor in that, as a teen, it is difficult to control your emotions on a good day, and you may feel as if your emotions have run amok.

It’s normal to be scared

Being told of a cancer diagnosis is difficult, both for you and for your loved one who has cancer. Your world has just been turned upside down, and you are going to experience every emotion possible.

It is normal to feel sad, angry, lonely and overwhelmed, all at the same time. There is a great deal of information to process and a lot of changes to come. You might feel responsible in some way. Remember that cancer is no one’s fault but is a disease like any other, which must be treated.

The diagnosis of cancer may have come just as you were making plans for the future, perhaps college or moving out on your own. Now, you may feel you will never be able to leave, and that may be frustrating.

Homework, team sports, dances, other extracurricular activities are all part of life as a teenager, and while they are fun, they also add stress to your life. Just being a teenager is stressful enough, but adding the fact that someone you love is now going through a battle with cancer can leave you feeling as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. The stress can be overwhelming.

Remember that these are normal, natural emotions, and it is not bad that you are feeling them; your loved one is, too.

Normal reactions

When dealing with any major upheaval, it is normal in the beginning to feel4Adjustment to Cancer: Anxiety and Depression. National Cancer Institute.:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite
  • Problems sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating and focusing
  • Inability to carry on as normal
  • Inability to stop thinking of the diagnosis and death

You may feel as if you are being abandoned, particularly with all the attention now being paid to your loved one instead of to your wants and needs.2When someone you love is being treated for cancer: talking with family and friends. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/when-someone-you-love-is-treated/page6. 2012 Jan. You feel the person you depend on to take care of you, the person you lean on, is now no longer there for you. You feel alone.

Anger is a common emotion in these situations. You might feel angry that this is happening to you, angry at your loved one for having cancer and changing your life, anger that others seem to just go on with their lives as normal while yours has changed forever. Anger is normal, but remember, don’t bottle up your anger. Remember that anger can also be unreasonable, especially if the anger is turned toward the one you love who has been diagnosed with cancer, or at others who are leading their normal lives. Your loved one did not ask to have cancer. His or her life has been turned upside down more than yours. Feeling angry at a time like this may even leave you feeling guilty, so it is important to talk about your feelings. Feeling angry at those around you is normal, too. Your life has changed, but others do not seem to notice; their lives go on as usual. Do not allow this type of anger to color your view of the world. Remember that the lives of others around you have not changed, in reality. For example, a classmate’s broken arm might make you feel sad for a short time, but then you feel no resulting life changes; however, your classmate needs help to eat, wash and change clothes. Understanding other people’s points of view can help you cope with your own reactions more effectively.

Keep lines of communication open with your parents to talk about your needs and emotions. It is also important to have at least one other trusted person in your life you can talk to about your feelings and experiences. This can be a relative, a friend or a professional counselor.

Emotions do not have to rule

It is natural to be emotional at this time. Everyone involved is feeling emotional, and you are no exception. The worst you can do is to deny your feelings. They will only return and, in most cases, more intensely. So feel your emotions, but remember that your emotions do not rule you. They are simply feelings, with which you can cope. Yes, your reality has changed, but you can have some control over the situation.

Don’t be afraid to keep your friendships. You need to keep a good balance, but also be there for your family when they need you.David S. (son of tonsil cancer survivor)

Navigating your emotions

This website contains other articles about specific aspects of your emotional journey that you might find helpful.

Caring for Yourself

Sometimes the family and friends of a person with cancer forget to care for themselves, and their own health suffers as a result. Learn how to identify the signs that you may need help and think about ways you can take care of yourself so you can stay strong enough to help take care of your loved one with cancer.

How to Feel Better

Sometimes it feels like nothing will ever be normal again. Learn strategies that can help you to handle your emotions and feel better.


References

1 Welch AS, Wadsworth MD, Compas BE. Adjustment of children and adolescents to parental cancer. Cancer. 1996,77:1409-1418.

2 When someone you love is being treated for cancer: talking with family and friends. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/when-someone-you-love-is-treated/page6. 2012 Jan.

3 When your parent has cancer: a guide for teens. National Cancer Institute. Publication No. 12-5734. 2012 Feb. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/When-Your-Parent-Has-Cancer.pdf.

4 Adjustment to Cancer: Anxiety and Depression. National Cancer Institute.