Cancer is a very delicate subject. Caution, this blog post may trigger some emotions for survivors of cancer and their loved ones. I felt compelled to write about the emotional aspect of battling cancer. There are five stages of cancer grief and the onset of it starts immediately for everyone involved once the diagnosis happens. Post traumatic stress syndrome can set in and the symptoms are sometimes overlooked by the doctor because the biggest problem is fighting the cancer. After battling cancer twice. stage 3 and stage 4 and talking to well over 1000 cancer patients in the last 3 years I felt it was time to shed some light from my own experience on this matter and to introduce something that many survivors and loved ones do not think about, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how it relates to cancer.
As a cancer survivor and a patient advocate, it has been an on going issue with many families and friends of loved ones battling cancer. I have needed to explain many times what PTSD is and what the 5 stages of grief are. There are excellent resources so please look into it.
5 Stages of Cancer Grief
* Denial * Anger * Bargaining * Depression * Acceptance
The stages may or may not be felt by all and they do not have any specific order. It’s like a roller coaster. What the survivor goes through and the loved ones experience are not the same, however the family often feels they are going through the same thing. It is common for family and friends to both experience fear. Everyone grieves differently, so I do not invalidate the hurt that anyone is going through, however it can be emotionally damaging to the cancer survivor for someone to say they are going through the same feelings. What they are going through really is much more terrifying.
Counseling and support groups for both the survivor and the loved ones are offered at hospitals because of the grief and stress they go through. It is healthy to talk about what you are feeling but it is important to educate yourself on what to say and what not to say to the individual battling cancer. They are hurting and fighting for their life.
Everyone that loves the survivor does not want to make a mistake at doing what they always thought was the right thing to do. If you are the parent you may think you know best and that they are not able to handle the stress or think clearly anymore because they are in crisis. It will be very difficult for some to accept the decision of treatment they decide on. Mainstream medicine like chemotherapy and radiation are getting second guessed more and more. You will have to resist giving a harsh opinion and take a gentle approach if you want to bring up an idea. If it gets brushed off it is important that you still support them in their battle. You can share what your thoughts are but do not hurt them more. It is very emotional for them. It is not easy deciding what to do to save your life. This is not time for the cancer survivor to be worrying about what your needs are and if they hurt your feelings just because they share with you what they truly believe is the right choice for them. Tell them you are there for them.
When talking with patients and their loved ones I use an analogy with the hopes of trying to paint a picture that they can relate to. I explain, that when a cancer patient is delivered the shocking news, it is hitting them so suddenly that they feel helpless at first. Loved ones experience this as well, it’s devastating. For the patient it is different though. For them it is like being on an airplane headed for somewhere pleasant, maybe Hawaii and then suddenly the pilot announces that the plane is going to crash! He informs passengers that they have a 2% chance of surviving the crash. Shock sets in and their world is upside down.
Now imagine if the passengers were able to receive phone calls from everyone that cared about them on the ground below, imagine the calls of advice because everyone is scared for them and cares. They’d be telling them how to position their body or how to craft something out of the seat cushion to beat the odds. Everyone is scared and wants their loved one to survive. It could be research they Googled or that they know of someone who was in a plane crash and survived and want to share what they did. Your support is loving and sincere. It’s just not going to take the situation away. They still feel a sense of being out of control and are in life saving mode. Your love and concern may be appreciated and sometimes it may not. This is traumatic getting the news that they have cancer and from my personal experience as a cancer survivor, my life changed instantly. I felt numb and nothing looked the same to me ever again. I would wake up and think to myself, “What’s wrong why I am anxious?” I would suddenly remember I had cancer and was battling for my life. I would sink in my heart and be flooded with thoughts of wondering if I would make it.
One difference between the two types of grieving is everyone who is afraid of losing the one they love with cancer is losing one person while the one with cancer does battle sometimes with the thought of having to say goodbye to everyone forever. Even people that believe in the afterlife or heaven go through the fear of that.
Perhaps you think they don’t want to live anymore. They never wanted this to happen and they may be exhausted! Never forget that they had hopes and dreams, they are scared, “why me”? They don’t want to burden anyone. All of this is normal and does not mean they lost their faith in God if they are believers. I remember I did not want to go to church sometimes because it reminded me of heaven and death. We are human beings not saints. I remember how terrified I was and how I prayed to beat cancer.. I pleaded, no I begged for God to let me live and made all kinds of promises.
We must remember this always with family and friends that when your loved one does open up about their feelings of fear that they are trusting you and I have heard of horror stories where family turned against them at a time when they needed them most. Family needs to approach in a new unfamiliar way and there is plenty of reading material about this. I am a Christian woman, I believe in God and I was afraid!
I kept praying, but I slept with a night light. Just because we are Christian does not mean we have no fear of dying. I had anxiety attacks. I would sometimes cry and beg God like a child, to beat this disease, I wasn’t ready and I had things I wanted to do to help people. Some days I was okay and at peace, some days I was very optimistic and people thought I was so positive and courageous” Not really, I was coping with fear as best as I possibly could, one day at a time. Sometimes though, I did have courage, everyone that loves the person battling cancer will express and cope differently and you will definitely experience your own roller coaster of emotions but it is not the same as trying to survive.
The survivor is preparing to quite possibly say goodbye to everyone if they lose this battle. Everyone around them is afraid of losing only one person, the one battling cancer. Cancer patients worry about their family, they comfort their children and they hide the pain and agony of wishing they did not have to prepare to possibly say goodbye. They try to hide their fear because they don’t want to be a burden or an embarrassment. If you ever want to talk to me about this just message me.
It is important to note that not everyone will go through all of these stages and they do not have a particular order. It will be up and down sometimes in a day and can be like a roller coaster! So please be supportive. You as a loved one will have your own stages of grief so this is why every one has a rough time. If you have faith in God, please pray together and pray often! Psalms was what got me through.