“The first thing I thought was ‘I’m going to die.’ I thought I was not going to get over it because I had a deep-rooted concept of cancer = death. Above all, I thought I had a little six-year-old daughter whom I was not going to be able to see grow, study, laugh… That killed me. ”
The speaker is Vanesa Gómez, 38 years old, and one of the protagonists of Llámalo Cáncer , the awareness campaign with which the Spanish Association Against Cancer wants to stand up to the reality behind the word.
And is that, for sick people and their families, cancer is a disease that has a great psychological and emotional cost . Uncertainty about medical tests and treatments, the need to feel loved and understood by others, the lack of information … It is common to generate negative emotions, such as anxiety, sadness, fear or anger.
For this, it is key to understand the emotional process experienced by people affected by the disease and provide them with the psychological support they need.
The word cancer and its psychological impact
The word cancer still contains today a series of connotations that make it, in many cases, live as the most threatening disease of all (above others also considered serious).
Traditionally, cancer has been a disease that inevitably led to death. Trying to hide their diagnosis and even mentioning the word cancer for many people is still difficult. Probably no disease has endured such a strong negative stigma over time as cancer, so old myths have persisted despite the fact that research, early detection and treatment have advanced as far in recent years. that there has been a notable increase in survival ”, explain the psycho-oncologists Carmen Yélamos and Elísabeth Berzal.
Emotions after cancer diagnosis
It is not surprising, therefore, that, according to a report by the World Health Organization (2002), more than a third of people with cancer suffer from clinical anxiety and depression.
“Cancer is a turning point in the life of the affected person. There is an impact that consists of a series of phases that begin with the experience of an initial shock, denial and disbelief, followed by confusion, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and fear and, finally, a phase of readjustment to the diagnosis, “they point out.
Logically, all this affects how the person sees and defines himself now, his self-concept and his personal identity. Go from being a person with a ‘normal’ life to being a ‘sick person’ or ‘patient’. This can trigger different emotional responses triggered by a lack of control over the situation and events :
- Depending on the process and phase of the disease, intense and unpleasant emotions can appear. Fear, sadness or guilt, loss of appetite and sleep disturbances , experiencing intrusive thoughts about the diagnosis and its impact in the future, concentration difficulties …
- The feeling of disbelief is also frequent , accompanied by thoughts like “this can’t be happening to me” , which can trigger a denial of everything related to the disease.
- The treatments and their side effects often cause discomfort and limitations. Treatments can influence a person’s body image, as well as their sexuality , fertility, and self-esteem.
In any case, changes after diagnosis are not always negative. Personal values undergo changes as a result of cancer, which makes you see life from another perspective . Thus, some people who have suffered from this disease verbalize, even, that they have learned a lot about themselves and have improved their quality of life.
Manage emotions to cope with illness
How you deal with illness influences your quality of life. In this sense, expressing our concerns is a fundamental process to better manage the emotional turmoil that arises at the moment.
“People with cancer and their families may have difficulties in identifying and understanding what they are feeling, but also in communicating it to their environment . Sometimes they do not express what they feel for fear of hurting people around them or for feeling guilty about their own emotions. However, in the long term, a lack of close and intimate communication can produce more feelings of loneliness and isolation. And the other way around: generating a climate of trust, support and understanding usually promotes a state of calm and well-being that helps the person to face this process ”, advise the experts in psycho-oncology at the AECC.
Psychological support and accompaniment
In addition, they remember that using a psycho-oncologist can be of great help throughout the disease process . “Psychological care focuses, among other aspects, on reducing the emotional impact after diagnosis, improving treatment information, communication and family support and helping to solve personal organizational problems … In the survival phase, It carries out training to improve self-esteem, body image and sexuality, as well as recovering or establishing physical exercise and eating habits, carrying out social activities or preparing to enter the world of work. Likewise, psychological care also plays a fundamental role at the end of life, both for the patient and for the relatives ”.
Finally, the team of psychologists from the AECC highlight the role of other types of emotional support as testimonial volunteer and support of the Association . “They are a source of real emotional support that can help the person in this process of coping with the disease. Being and feeling accompanied, having a person next to you to listen and support you in the hospital, at home or over the phone, listening to the testimony of a person who has gone through a similar situation … All this helps facilitate communication and communication. expression of feelings and concerns. In addition, the testimony of a person who has lived this experience represents a model of coping and adaptation to the disease that promotes participation in the recovery and rehabilitation of the person with cancer. “