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Coping with Thoughts and Feelings While Living with Cancer

No two people experience cancer in the same way. What is normal for you may be very different from what is normal for someone else. No one can tell you how you should feel or think. Only you know what is right for you. It is common to feel emotional ups and downs or to have sudden mood changes.

Sometimes you may feel angry, afraid, or depressed. At other times you may feel hopeful, peaceful, or confident.   Some people find that talking with others helps them cope with their emotions.  Others prefer Private emotional expression—crying alone, praying, screaming into a pillow, laughing aloud in the shower, sitting alone quietly, or writing in a journal.

The following ideas coping with your feelings may help you:

  • Some people find it helpful to write down the details of their treatment in a treatment diary, journal, or calendar. When you have any questions  or need more information, write down your concerns and bring them to your  next medical appointment . Together, we can help you find the best ways to cope with your cancer.
  • Talk with someone you trust—a friend, family member, health care professional, or spiritual counselor.  Let them know when you feel like talking and when you just want someone to be with you.
  • Consider joining a support group in your community or online.
  • Try creative outlets such as drawing, making crafts, or listening to music. Such activities may help you express feelings without talking.
  • Allow yourself to feel sad or angry when you need to, but also take time to focus on the people and things that make you forget about cancer.
  • Learn techniques to relax such as breathing, imagery, and yoga.
  • Try doing something to help another person
  • Use physical distraction such as workout routines, walking, dancing, or taking a drive in a car.
  • Consider professional counseling for yourself and your family. A competent and caring professional can guide you through change and stress.

To Family and Friends:

  • Do not judge your loved one’s feelings.  Accept how he or she feels and be available to listen.
  • Be hopeful and encouraging, but allow your loved one to have negative emotions. Expressing negative as well as positive feelings helps your loved one reach a healthy
  • Remember that family and friends also have a range of feelings and that what you are experiencing is important.  Try the coping strategies suggested above.
  • Consider talking with a professional to help sort out your emotions.

Free Resources from the National Cancer Institute

You can order these free booklets by calling 1-800-422-6237 or going to

  • Taking Time
  • Caring for the Caregiver
  • Coping with Advanced Cancer
  • When Someone You Love Has Advanced Cancer
  • When Someone You Love Is Being Treated for Cancer

Revised March 2011