The verdict is in: “You have cancer.” Your reaction: “Why me? What will happen now? How do I announce it to others?” The word “cancer” is still frightening, taboo and equated with death. It is seen as an invisible enemy to be eradicated. In this word there is the idea of something bad inside, the belief of being responsible for the illness and the notion of a disease without a cure. So what is it, exactly?

It is actually incorrect to talk about cancer, when in fact we should speak of “cancers.” There are over one hundred types of cancers, each with its own features, progression, and response to treatments.  And while cancer is a complex disease, it is now possible to live with it, thanks to medical breakthroughs.

Living with cancer, however, is an extremely emotional experience. Throughout the cancer journey – diagnosis, testing, treatments, side effects, medical follow-up – varied and intense emotions are perfectly normal and expected. 

The emotional challenge that comes with a diagnosis of cancer is mainly due to the complexity of the disease and its associated psychological stress (N-U-T-S): the Novelty of the situation you are thrust into, the Unpredictability of the success of treatment, the Threat to your ego posed by the changes brought about by the illness and the loss of your Sense of control (socio-economic, relational, physical, etc.) over the situation.

Facing the emotional challenge

Everyone has their own way of dealing with the emotional challenges of living with cancer. Both for the affected person and those close to their entourage, one way of adapting is to identify the greatest source of psychological stress among the four themes of N-U-T-S. Then, as far as possible, to find a way to lessen it.

One effective strategy is to ask your doctor questions in order to better understand the situation, to understand each step and participate in treatment decisions. Another strategy is to ​​cultivate the notion of life by planning small projects and pleasures, either alone or with friends and family. These two actions will increase your sense of control and offset the severity of the psychological stress associated with cancer.

It is important to be vigilant: emotions must regulate the psychological stress without being intrusive or destructive. It is equally possible that the emotions are exacerbated by the secondary neurophysiologic changes associated with cancer treatments. It is crucial to talk about it and to be well-informed.

Cancer is a complex disease, and it is unrealistic to try and eradicate the associated stress and emotions. However, it is possible to learn to cope with the uncertainty and to cultivate life.

Call the Info-Cancer Line at 1 800 363-0063 1 800 363-0063 FREE to discuss your concerns, identify the source of your stress, get advice, find resources, etc.

Source :

Marika Audet-Lapointe, Ph.D. Oncology psychologist
PSYmedicis Onco-psychology clinic.

Comment on this article

Sign up for our newsletter


Related items

Beauty tips for cancer patients

Your skin, hair and nails may be affected by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Here is a list of little things you can do to better cope with these side effects. Readmore

Meeting with the oncologist

Patients often have lots of questions to ask our doctor when it comes time to meet him. The nursing staff on the Info-Cancer Line (1 800 363-00631 800 363-0063 FREE) can help you prepare for the meeting, by clarifying your questions and putting them in order. Readmore

Parenting with cancer

Being diagnosed with cancer turns your life upside down. This is even more so when you are a parent of young children or even teenagers. You probably want to protect your children from this trial and the upheaval it can cause. Readmore

Cancer screening

With early detection and better investigation and treatment methods, the survival rate for Canadians with cancer is over 60%. By comparison, in the 1940s, this stood at about 25%. For some cancers, the survival rate is even higher: 88% for breast cancer, 97% for testicular cancer or 96% for prostate cancer.


Taking care of yourself as a caregiver

When you are a caregiver, it’s easy to devote yourself entirely to taking care of the sick person. Our concern over the health of the other person can make us forget we should also be paying attention to our own. You still have a large number of personal, family and work-related tasks and responsibilities in addition to those of the patient. Readmore