Cancer affects the whole person – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I firmly believe in the role therapy can play in an integrated approach to cancer treatment.
However, it is not uncommon for people (with or with no cancer) to think that cancer counselling is self indulgent, a waste of time, it does not change things, it does not cure cancer: What’s the point in dwelling on it? It’s too upsetting. Others are worse off. It won’t cure me.
Cancer like any other life-changing or life-shortening illness impacts everything in our lives – not just our bodies, but also our mental and emotional well being, our relationships, our faith and values, our finances, our future, our trust in our bodies and our trust in the world. This does not stop when treatment ends. It is normal to feel like this and it makes sense.
A cancer diagnosis throws our lives into one almighty crisis, which can cause a whole range of emotional responses, like fear, depression, anger, rage, loss and grief, irritability, self pity, loneliness, guilt, resentment and hopelessness to mention just some.
These feelings can happen to all affected by cancer, including relatives and friends. And these feelings can occur at every single step along the way, from diagnosis, to treatment, to remission, to life with and beyond cancer, whether the cancer is detected early or not, is curable or not, is treatable or not, whether you are young or old, male or female, rich or poor, fit or not, have faith or not. Cancer and cancer emotions do not discriminate.
However, if we get stuck in these emotions, then life can become a lot more bleak. Not attending to the emotional trauma of cancer and cancer treatment can lead to long-term anxiety, depression and stress. This in turn can impact our mental, emotion and physical well being, our immune system and hormones, which in turn can impact treatment, and our overall physical and emotional quality of life.
Talking about it can help take the lid off the pressure cooker before it explodes. Talking in counselling and therapy is done in a way that is safe and meaningful. It does not cure cancer, but it can heal other wounds, which medical treatment often neglects and does not talk about.
It can help process the trauma, and put things into perspective in a way that helps us realise that we have not lost all control of our lives, that we get can and are entitled to play an active part in the life we have. We continue to have choices and we are entitled to exercise them.
Talking can make all the difference between passively collapsing under the weight of overwhelming emotions, and actively taken charge and facing up to what is happening.
In that sense talking has a valuable contribution to make to an integrated approach to our cancer experience and journey, which attends to body, mind and soul.
Talking is not self-indulging or a weakness. It takes courage; yes, and energy, and it is the smart thing to do.
You might also be interested in other posts about cancer.
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Need some advice? Submit your question to my #DearKarin advice column here. Karin Sieger BA (Hons), MA (PsychCouns), Reg. MBACP (Accred) is a therapist and writer. All rights reserved © Karin Sieger. Neither articles nor videos substitute medical advice or therapy.