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Colorectal Cancer: Newly Diagnosed: Emotional Well Being (Stages 2, 3 and 4)


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A diagnosis, particularly a diagnosis of a cancer that is in an advanced stage or one that has metastasized (spread), brings a variety of feelings which often start with denial, anger or fear. Feelings surface in no particular order and often come more than one at a time. Sometimes there can be an emotional roller coaster.

In addition to internal feelings, you may feel isolated from people around you who have not been diagnosed.

Although it may seem like it, the world has not ended. You are here today. Medical advances are being made on a daily basis. There is always at least one survivor - and there is no reason why that person cannot be you.

To help with the emotions you are feeling and those you are likely to experience, consider the following:

  • Accept your feelings. Do not try to suppress them.
  • Express your feelings even if the culture in which you live encourages you to keep emotions to yourself.
    • Alternatives for expressing yourself include speaking with other people, writing down your feelings or expressing them in art.
    • If you have a significant other, it is especially important to express your feelings to him or her.
  • Use whatever techniques helped you get through difficult periods in the past. In addition, consider time tested techniques that help with different specific feelings that have helped other people. For example, the following phrases have become cliches for good reason: "Take one day at a time." "Take an hour at a time." "Take a moment at a time."
  • During the inevitable waiting periods, keep tips in mind that have helped other people cope. For example, keep busy.
  • If you get stuck in a down mode or if emotions begin to impact your daily life:
  • Let your doctor know. He or she may be able to help.
    • Professional counseling is available. This is particularly important to keep in mind if you become so anxious and frightened that your emotions affect your ability to function or to think clearly. A consultation with a professional will help reduce your anxiety enough that you can participate in the decision making process.
  • There is no reason to go through this experience alone. Potential sources of support include:
    • Family and friends
    • Co-workers
    • Support groups and self help groups
    • A buddy with cancer like yours with a similar age and lifestyle.
    • As you will see in our documents about telling other people about your diagnosis, you do not have to tell everyone at once. Whether it is family, friends or co-workers, the news can provoke strong emotional reactions. Begin with people who will respond in a helpful way - perhaps a person who will simply listen without making a lot of suggestions or trying to take charge.
    • Work on having an attitude of realistic optimism. This is generally referred to as a positive attitude. Don't beat yourself up when you don't feel positive. Instead, work on changing your thoughts to positive ones.
  • Look for humor each day
  • Think about getting a pet - yes, a pet.

It can be helpful to speak with a neutral, sympathetic and knowledgeable counselor during the first days after a diagnosis. Your doctor may have such a person to recommend. Or consider calling a hotline at Colon Cancer Alliance or Cancer Care which has a call center staffed by oncology social workers that are knowledgeable in all types of cancer. Tel.: 800.813.4673 (Mon-Thursday from 9AM to 7PM ET and on Friday from 9AM to 5PM ET).

Experience indicates that you will feel more confident and in control as you come to terms with your feelings, start to coordinate your support team, and start to learn about your treatment options.

  • Allow time for your emotions to settle before making important decisions such as which treatment(s). There is generally time. (For more information, see Colorectal Cancer: Newly Diagnosed: Managing Your Medical Care.
  • Keep in mind that spouses and significant others are likely also on an emotional roller coaster. While your needs come first, keep theirs in mind. If their needs become difficult, consider suggesting professional counseling, or at least a support group for spouses/significant others.
  • If the holidays are difficult for you because of your diagnosis of colorectal cancer, click here for tips about getting through it.
  • There is likely to be less stress if you follow a road map for dealing with the other aspects of life post diagnosis so you're not concerned about unnecessary surprises. The following documents deal with the other aspects of your life affected by your diagnosis:

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