Initial diagnosis

The emotional impact of cancer

Most people will experience strong emotions after a cancer diagnosis, not only when they first hear that it’s cancer, but also at various times during or after treatment.

Cancer is a serious disease, the treatment may take a long time and can be demanding, and there are many periods of waiting and uncertainty. There is no right way to feel – experiencing a range of emotions is normal. The intense feelings may be constant or may come and go. You may find that some pass with time, while others last longer. At times, it may feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster.

Everyone is different, and you need to deal with the diagnosis in your own way. As you navigate this challenging time, it may be reassuring to know that your reactions are natural, there are different ways to manage the emotional impact, and support is available.

Common reactions

At any stage after a cancer diagnosis, you may experience times of distress and feel a range of strong emotions, such as disbelief, fear, sadness, anxiety and anger. These can be seen as a type of grief – cancer often involves a series of losses, such as a loss of good health, temporary or permanent changes to your appearance, not being able to work or do your normal activities, changed financial plans, a loss of independence, changed relationships, and a shift in how you see yourself. It usually takes time to adjust to these changes.

When your mental health needs are met, you are in the best position to manage the demands of treatment. Let your treatment team know if you have a history of anxiety or depression, as this could make you more vulnerable now. It is important to manage emotional distress and seek professional support if it is ongoing.

Caring for someone with cancer

It’s common for carers to experience a range of feelings about their new role and responsibilities, and many describe it as an emotional roller-coaster. Often these feelings are similar to those experienced by the person with cancer – some studies show that carers can have even higher levels of distress.

Many carers find it reassuring to know that their feelings are a normal reaction to the demands of the role. It’s important to give yourself permission to take care of your own emotional wellbeing.

Finding hope

In Australia, the rates of cancer survival have increased significantly over time, but it can be hard to feel hopeful when you have just been diagnosed with cancer. Worrying about the future is natural. Treatments are improving constantly, and if the cancer can’t be controlled, symptoms can be relieved to make life more comfortable. It can be very confronting to think about your own mortality, even if the outlook for your type of cancer is reassuring. Talk to your doctor about what the diagnosis means for you and what the future may hold. Knowing more about your illness may help ease this fear.

If you have been told the cancer is advanced, you may find it harder to feel hopeful. In some cases, advanced cancer can be controlled for many years. When time is limited, people often focus on goals such as visiting special places or spending time with family and friends.

Getting support

When you are first diagnosed with cancer, and during treatment and recovery, you may experience a range of emotions. You may also face practical and financial difficulties. Cancer Council Queensland offers many professional services and support programs that are here to help you.

Our services include:

You don’t have to face cancer alone – we’re here to help.

Information and resources

For more information about emotions and cancer see our Emotions and Cancer booklet or order a hard copy.

For more information about caring for someone with cancer go to our Carer Support webpage, or see our Caring for Someone with Cancer or Partners Guide to Coping with Cancer booklets or order a hard copy.

The information available on this page should not be used as a substitute for advice from a qualified medical professional who can advise you on your own medical needs. It is not meant to be medical advice and is provided for general information purposes only. See our Disclaimer.