I am passionate about supporting cancer survivors and their families throughout the challenges of their cancer journey - whether it be dealing with the shock of diagnosis, coping with the side-effects of treatment, adjusting to the new version of their life beyond active treatment, or in some cases coming to terms with a diagnosis of advanced cancer with all that this entails.
Described below are some of the more common struggles experienced and the ways counselling might help.
Often a cancer diagnosis has been preceded by significant medical imaging and other exploratory procedures, followed by tense periods of time waiting for results. Even when we have had a sneaking suspicion, actually being diagnosed with cancer can be a terrible shock and can fill us and our loved ones with fear. It can be difficult to take in all the information which is being provided at this time… and hard to decide who to tell/how to tell them/and how much information to share – especially when young children are involved.
Everyone copes in different ways as our primitive “flight or fight” response kicks into gear. Some may feel completely overwhelmed; some will have been socially conditioned to “put on a brave face” and avoid thinking about it; others become adept at distracting their thoughts by keeping busy; while others might feel like everything is a little surreal and that they are functioning on autopilot.
It can be very helpful at this time to have a compassionate professional to speak with about how you are feeling and to learn some techniques for staying grounded in the here and now and reducing anxiety.
Your diagnosis is often followed by a whirlwind of appointments, information overload, decisions to be made, surgery and other forms of treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy or endocrine therapy. Some of these treatments can cause challenging side-effects which can leave us feeling vulnerable, depleted of energy and at times, a little disconnected from the world around us.
It can be very helpful during this period of time, to have a safe space in which to talk to a caring professional person about feelings which may be difficult to share with our loved ones, and to realise that these feelings are quite normal at this time.
Survivorship - Beyond Active Treatment
Many people are surprised to find that once they have completed their active treatment life doesn’t always return to the way it was before their diagnosis.
It is common at this time to feel a little anxious about who is keeping an eye on you - as you are not seeing your medical providers as frequently, and many clients report difficulty managing their fear of recurrence. Some clients say they feel as if the whole ordeal is only just catching up with them once they get off the rollercoaster of appointments and active treatment.
Many survivors struggle to manage ongoing after-effects of treatment (see below) which can make the transition back to work and former roles challenging. This can lead to feelings of loss (see below) and affect our sense of self.
It can be very helpful to seek counselling support during this time of significant adjustment in our lives. Techniques can be explored that may assist with managing anxiety, fear of recurrence and feelings of loss. We can work together to develop strategies to deal with common issues such as brain fog, returning to work and relationship concerns.
Common Feelings of Loss Associated with a Cancer Experience
Loss of good health
Loss of body parts/body image issues
Reduced capacity/perceived competence
Loss of sense of self/identity
Life as it used to be before cancer
Common After-effects of Cancer Treatment
Fear of recurrence
Changes in relationships with family and friends
Difficulty with activities of everyday living
Difficulty adjusting to life beyond cancer
Reduced confidence or feelings of self-worth
Difficulties transitioning back to work
Difficulty with intimate partner relationships
When you are first told you have advanced cancer it can feel overwhelming and it is likely that you will experience a range of emotions including: shock, fear, anger, resentment, denial, helplessness, frustration, sadness, guilt, uncertainty, and loneliness. Whatever you feel, you do not have to go through it alone.
It can be helpful to talk to close family members and friends but sometimes they are dealing with their own feelings about your diagnosis, and it may be beneficial to speak with a supportive counsellor outside of the family.
I can provide a safe space in which you can express your feelings of loss and grief, and share your worries and fears which might be difficult to speak to family members about. I can help you to learn mindfulness techniques which have proven helpful for reducing distress by teaching us to live in the moment and move towards acceptance of the things we cannot control or change.
Partners & Family
When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, partners and other family members often suffer as much or even greater distress than the person with the cancer. As a partner you also face the shock of diagnosis, the concerns about surgery and other treatment, as well as fears for your loved one’s short and long-term well-being. You may have to take on the burden of extra household and carer duties for an extended period of time, face possible financial stress, experience a change in role in your relationship from partner to carer, and have to deal with feelings of loss and uncertainty.
It is common to feel helpless, frustrated, anxious, scared, sad or angry at this time but many partners do not want to further burden their loved one by sharing these feelings. Over time, this may lead to increased levels of psychological distress which can cause issues with memory, concentration, disturbed sleep, fatigue and worrying thoughts.
It is very important for partners and support people to have an opportunity to express their feelings and concerns and not to brush them aside. It can be very beneficial to speak to a compassionate, understanding counsellor at this time who will listen, validate and normalise your feelings, assist you with simple techniques and strategies to manage your stress levels, and focus on your emotional well-being. It is important to take care of yourself so that you have the physical and emotional energy to care for your loved one.
Sometimes all a person wants is an empathetic ear; all he or she needs is to talk it out.
Roy T. Bennett
Qualifications & Accreditations
Bachelor of Education (B.H.M.S.Ed), Certificate of Gifted Education (C.O.G.E), Master of Counselling (M. Couns.)
Member of the Australian Counselling Association Membership Number: 15044