Social and Emotional Changes

Emotional Changes in Cancer Survivors

Cancer is a lifelong journey that does not end when you become a survivor. Cancer changes you mentally and emotionally. If you don’t address these changes, they may hold you back from enjoying life. By acknowledging them and taking steps to address them you may be able to cope better while becoming a stronger and more compassionate person.

The Lingering Social and Emotional Fallout of Cancer

It’s safe to say that every cancer survivor has experienced a whirlwind of emotions, including shock, disbelief, fear, and anger. For some people, as the physical symptoms of cancer improve so do the painful emotional symptoms. For others (many others), beating the disease physically is just one step in a long journey toward recovery. Often, emotional wounds take much longer to heal than physical wounds.

Many Survivors Struggle with Emotional Symptoms

Anxiety, fear, depression, and social withdrawal can affect anyone at any time, but cancer survivors are at higher risk. According to an article published in Cancer Today magazine, 9 in 100 people experience depression, but among cancer survivors, that rate is tripled to 27 in 100 experiencing depression. Commonly, cancer survivors:

  • Worry that their cancer will recur
  • Grieve the loss of their relatively carefree pre-cancer attitude and outlook
  • Struggle with body image issues and, consequently, become withdrawn socially and intimately
  • Feel guilty that they survived cancer while others did not

Signs That It May be Time to Seek Help

If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s probably time to reach out for help.

  • You usually feel sad, empty, or hopeless
  • You cry for no obvious reason
  • You avoid friends and family members
  • You feel afraid or nervous much of the time
  • You avoid people or places out of fear
  • You need constant reassurance from others
  • You’ve lost interest in things you used to enjoy
  • You’re having trouble sleeping
  • You feel guilty or like you’re a burden to others
  • You feel like life isn’t worth living

You didn’t battle the physical disease of cancer alone, and you certainly don’t have to battle the emotional ups and downs alone. Participating in cancer survivors’ support groups and/or talking to a psychotherapist can help you get your feelings out in the open. Just voicing what’s bothering you can be helpful! Compass Oncology offers several cancer survivor support programs for patients in the Portland and Vancouver area. 

If you’re struggling with emotional problems, talking to a therapist and to other survivors is important; so is having a primary care physician. A Cancer Today article noted that 8% of survivors with depression reported they did not have a primary care physician, compared to just 4% of survivors who were not dealing with depression. If you have a primary care physician, he or she is trained to identify the symptoms of depression and help patients receive help.

They can also assess whether anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications could be helpful in your situation.

Don’t let cancer rob you of your joy and quality of life! If you’re experiencing post-cancer sadness, anxiety, and fear, remember that your feelings are completely normal. They’re actually lingering symptoms of the monumental physical battle you fought and won. You needed plenty of help to overcome your physical cancer struggles. Don’t hesitate to enlist help overcoming your emotional cancer struggles too!