Dealing with the emotional impact of pancreatic cancer
Everyone reacts differently to being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We explain how to find support.
If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer you might feel that your world has been turned upside down, and feel shocked, numb, or frightened. As time goes on you may go through a range of emotions. These may be similar or completely different to how you felt when you were first diagnosed. People find different ways to cope, and there is support available.
"It is completely normal to be angry, to feel frustrated, and to argue with your family. All of these things will heal and repair in time."
What can help?
Finding out more
Some people find it helps to find out more about their cancer, treatment options and what the future might hold. Even if you don’t want to know everything about pancreatic cancer, make sure you speak to your medical team, ask them questions, and understand what your diagnosis and treatment options mean.
Talking about it
It might seem that no one else understands how you feel, and some people tell us they feel isolated and alone. Some people find it helps to talk about their cancer and how they are feeling. Family and friends can be a fantastic support. But sometimes people just don’t know what to say. Macmillan Cancer Support have information about talking about cancer.
Some people prefer not to talk to family or friends – for example because they don’t want to worry them. You can also talk to your medical team. You will be given a main contact, or keyworker, who will usually be a specialist nurse. They can provide emotional support as well as medical care.
You might find it helps to talk to others affected by pancreatic cancer, who can understand what you are going through. We have an online discussion forum for anyone affected by pancreatic cancer, and we run Living with Pancreatic Cancer support sessions, where you can meet others. There are also support groups around the country.
If you have had or are having surgery to remove the cancer you might find it helps to talk things through with someone who knows what it is like. Side by Side is a telephone support service that gives you the chance to speak to a trained volunteer who has had surgery.
Some people find counselling helpful. This gives you a safe place to come to terms with your feelings and may help you find ways to cope. If you’re interested in counselling, speak to your GP or nurse – they may be able to refer you.
Hospitals, Macmillan Cancer Support and Maggie’s Centres sometimes also have counsellors that specialise in supporting people with cancer. The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy has information about counselling, and you can search for a counsellor who deals with cancer. Your GP or keyworker should also be able to put you in touch with any cancer support services and support groups in your local area.
"We have used the counselling services of the local hospice. This has not been a 'quick fix', but provides an environment to talk and try to understand the feelings we have had."
Looking after yourself
Many people find that sorting out symptoms around diet makes a big difference to how they feel, both physically and emotionally. Getting help and support to manage other symptoms and side effects can also help you to feel better and more in control.
Some people find that focussing on things other than the cancer and making plans can help them cope. These might just be small things, like trying to live life as normally as possible, or planning something fun for the following week. Something to look forward to is a charity that supports people with cancer and their families by providing access to a variety gifts. Find anything from tickets to events and attractions, restaurant meals, hotel stays, beauty treatments and more. There are gifts available specifically for people with pancreatic cancer.
Simple ways to relax can help you cope with stress, pain and anxiety. For example, having a warm bath, deep breathing, or listening to soothing music are easy things to try at home.
Gentle physical activity can help to maintain or improve your strength and fitness. It may also help you feel better, deal with fatigue, and cope with treatment. Speak to your doctor or nurse before starting any kind of exercise plan. Some cancer support services run exercise courses for people with cancer. Ask your GP about any services available in your area.
Some people find that complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, massage, meditation, or relaxation therapies, can help them cope with anxiety, as well as pain and some side effects of treatments.
It is so overwhelming and it is so important to be kind to yourself, give yourself plenty of time, allow the emotions to come and go, and talk to anyone you can.
People with pancreatic cancer may be more likely to get depression – read more about this.
Published January 2018
To be reviewed January 2020