Cancer & Grief after your Diagnosis

Summary: Grief is another part of life that each person will deal with, for a variety of reasons, in their life. Each person reacts to grief and tough situations differently, although everyone should be taking the time to allow grief and emotion into their lives. It is important to grieve the loss of self, your cancer diagnosis, and anything else that is taken from you during this time. Allow yourself the honesty of feeling and emotion, so that you can work through this situation as healthily as possible. Here you can learn about grief after your cancer diagnosis and how to work through it.

Grief is something that everyone deals with at multiple times throughout their lifetime. Many people only associate grief with someone they love dying or some serious severe incident. The truth is, grief can present itself at any time in our lives, for just about any reason. If you have lost something valuable or meaningful to you, you will face grief. If you lose a part of yourself, your spouse, or life as you know it, you will grieve in your own way.

With a cancer diagnosis, grief is a very common emotion to feel at varying levels through the process. The loss that you feel could be solely the loss of your old self, or it could be something tangible like a body part, or your hair. Intangible losses like losing independence or the sense of self can occur during treatment and years after.

Understanding your grief will help you to take the right steps to manage it in a healthy, whole way. People often become frustrated with themselves for grieving and wanting the process to be over faster than it is. Think of your loss as a wound and your grief as the healing- the bigger your loss (the wound), the longer the healing process, and your grief, can take. Grief is the emotional response to the loss of something you love or cherish. Common grief reactions are:

  • Feeling emotionally numb.
  • Feeling unable to believe the loss occurred.
  • Feeling anxiety from the distress of being separated from the loved one.
  • Mourning along with depression.
  • A feeling of acceptance.

Cancer patients often face collateral losses, like not being able to work or take part in normal everyday activities, having a large financial burden of the treatment, and much more. Multiple losses and life changes occurring uncontrollably in the same time period may cause the feelings of grief to grow. This means that facing those feelings head on and not brushing them off is very important, even vital, to your healing.

Allow yourself the time needed to grieve future losses and future events that you know will impact your life. For some, cancer treatments can impact the ability to have children, keep you from attending important events, and miss out on family functions. This is a major aspect of anticipatory grief, especially when one knows that death is likely. A cancer diagnosis may remind you of other losses throughout your life. Patients use this time to reflect back on their lives, situations, parents and loved ones who had previously succumbed to cancer. This may trigger a resurgence of grief for a period of time while they want support to help them through.

Illness and cancer can make everyday things much harder to deal with. Many patients experience the death of a friend, loved one, or even a close pet during the duration of their cancer treatment. Patients may also feel more grief if and when they lose the friends they meet while in treatment.

The Grieving Process

A loss is a loss, and the type of grief you are facing will become irrelevant, as the process for grieving is still the same.

  • Accept the reality of the loss.
  • Allow yourself space to experience the emotions and pain of grief.
  • Adjust to a world without the thing or person that you lost.
  • Form a connection to the thing you lost without having it stop you from living your life. Think, “What have I learned, how have I changed, and what can I remember fondly without the pain?”

When it comes to grief, it is not as simple as going through stages. Grieving is a process that is unique to each individual and situation. It is normal to express yourself and your grief, especially around important holidays, dates, anniversaries, and special moments first celebrated after the loss. There may also be certain triggers that remind you of key moments from cancer treatment or other moments in life. Some people refer to their “anniversary grief” when the day and month of their diagnosis rolls around each year. Allow these moments to help center you, remember these moments of grief in a healthy, beneficial way, and move forward with your life.

Finding a Support for you and your Grief

Remember that each individual grieves differently, in their own time, and in their own way. This can be very challenging with a child or parent when they seem to be in different places in the grieving process. In your area, there are a myriad of support groups and therapists trained in the likes of cancer and cancer treatment. These groups can help you to find like-minded individuals who are or have experienced what you are going through and feeling.

If you are having trouble managing your grief after diagnosis, or just grief in general, reach out to your medical care team for support and guidance on how to get a handle on your emotions.

Resources Used:

ACS

NIH

Reclaiming Intimacy

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