Feeling the Fear of Cancer

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Managing the Fear of Your Diagnosis

There will be many variables with your cancer diagnosis: the location, type, intensity, stage and prognosis will all be highly individualized to your scenario. Treatment will be tailored to your precise situation. Hopefully, with the best treatment and a bit of luck, the outcomes will be in your favor.

While so much of the experience of cancer will be unique to your set of circumstances, the feelings associated with cancer will be common and consistent. After the diagnosis, people often report feelings of shock, disbelief, anger, sadness and fear.

Some of the feelings will be short-lived as they alleviate over time. Others will only intensify if they are allowed to fester and spread throughout your life.

The Effects of Fear

Fear is perhaps the most troubling feeling after diagnosis. As shock and anger dissipate, they can be replaced by a growing sense of fear. In this case, think of fear as extreme worry, anxiety and panic. Feelings of fear related to cancer will present as:

  • Physical tension and feeling rigid
  • Being physically and mentally fatigued
  • Feeling that your mind is sped up and filled with countless questions
  • Trouble sleeping with unwanted dreams and nightmares
  • Decreased appetite
  • Diminished ability to think clearly and pay attention
  • Worrying terrible things will occur even with limited information to support your beliefs

However, fear is not the problem — it is only a feeling. Your response to the fear tends to create negative situations and symptoms, in a similar fashion as anger. Anger has a poor reputation because it leads to aggression and violence, but the anger itself is not the issue —poor anger management is.

Unleash Your Fear

People with poor fear management skills make one crucial mistake: they fear their fear, try to suppress their fear, and attempt to bottle it up and never show their fear to others or themselves. This only amplifies the negatives associated with the feeling. By trying so hard to control it, you allow it to control you.

To manage your fear, you actually have to feel it. By permitting yourself to fully express your fear, you can release it and its power. Forcing yourself to be afraid may seem odd, so you may need to work to exercise your fear:

  • Be honest in your conversations with others about your fear
  • Use appropriate feeling words like scared, worried, afraid, fearful, nervous and anxious when you speak to others and yourself
  • Don’t try to hide your responses to information or changes with your condition
  • Forget the flawed notion of “being strong for others”
  • Do not encourage other people to “be strong” for you

Fear Management

When you acknowledge that you are afraid, you can begin to work towards managing that fear.

Stay Grounded in the Facts

Fear is based in anxiety, which has the ability to twist and distort simple pieces of information into a swirl of confusion. The overwhelming amount and content of information related to your cancer diagnosis only makes this more problematic.

To avoid the trap of distorted thinking, practice writing down facts as soon as you learn them. Waiting until later will give your anxiety too much time to twist your thoughts.

Along the way, check and double check information with reputable sources. Reading material from some sources will only spike your fear unnecessarily, so stick to the facts.

Practice Relaxation Skills

Your diagnosis will naturally raise your resting anxiety. There is no changing this, but you can combat it.

Finding the sources of relaxation that work best for you will be imperative. Remember, the best stress reducers are active measures that give you a sense of enjoyment or satisfaction.

Laying on the couch staring at the TV is a false relaxation source. Spending time having fun and finding pleasure will yield true relaxation. Formalized relaxation techniques can be learned or expanded upon to give a well-rounded sense of relaxation.

Engage Your Supports

The people in your life may mean well, but they likely have no idea how to aid in your relaxation and fear reduction. They will make statements like “let me know if you need anything.” Rather than nodding and smiling, accept this offer.

You do need something: increased support from your loved ones. Make plans for a phone conversation or a lunch date. Even if you are unsure how you will be feeling then, breaking a plan is much better than trying to make one last minute.

Be Selfish

Battling cancer has to be a selfish process. This makes many people uncomfortable, but think about it this way: if you are not okay, the people in your life will not be okay.

By making yourself the priority, you put yourself in a better position to be optimistic, happy, and hopeful. This will lead to improved responses from the people in your life.

Do not fake your feelings. People will see through this, and it will trigger increased fear and worry from them. As long as it is reasonable, do what you need to do. Others will understand.

A cancer diagnosis will elicit many strong reactions, and it can easily take hold of you following diagnosis. But remember: your fear is not the problem, the way you manage it is.

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