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Coping with pancreatic cancer

Everyone reacts differently to being 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.

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.

You can also call our specialist nurses on our free Support Line. They have time to listen to your concerns and answer questions about any aspect of pancreatic cancer.

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 there are support groups around the country where you can meet others.

Some people find counselling helpful. This gives you a safe place to come to terms with your feelings and find ways to cope. If you’re interested in counselling, speak to your GP or nurse – they may be able to refer you. Cancer centres and Maggie’s sometimes also have counsellors. You can find more information about counselling from the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, or the Counselling Directory.

Looking after yourself

Many people find that sorting out symptoms and side effects can help them cope emotionally and physically, for example – symptoms around eating and diet or tiredness.

Anxiety and depression

When someone has cancer and is facing an uncertain future, feelings of anxiety, fear, anger and worries about what will happen are natural. But these feelings can become overwhelming at times. Anxiety and depression can be common in people with pancreatic cancer. Depression can affect the quality of your daily life, and you may feel less able to cope with treatment such as chemotherapy. 

Symptoms of depression include:

  • loss of appetite and weight loss
  • negative thoughts and feeling hopeless
  • loss of any interest or pleasure in daily life
  • problems sleeping. 

Some of the symptoms of depression can be similar to symptoms of pancreatic cancer. Speak to the medical team or GP if you have any of these symptoms. They can find out what’s causing them and how best to manage them.

What can help?

There are ways to deal with depression and anxiety. For example, support in dealing with what might be causing the anxiety might help – such as help with financial issues, or dealing with any symptoms or side effects. Speaking to the medical team or a counsellor may help you come to terms with your cancer diagnosis and what that might mean for the future. Hospitals and hospices often have counsellors or psychotherapists who specialise in cancer. Or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy has details of qualified counsellors.

Anti-depressant drugs can also help manage anxiety and depression.

“I think the most difficult aspects of dealing with pancreatic cancer is the uncertainty that inevitably comes with it. For me, it became a question of trust in the medical professionals. In all of this, it has brought my family closer together.”

“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.”

“It is so overwhelming and it is so important to be kind to yourself, give yourself plenty of time, and allow the emotions to come and go, and talk to anyone you can. No one will judge you and so many people will understand.”

“We have used the counselling services of the local hospice. This has not been a ‘quick fix’ by any stretch of the imagination, but provides an environment to talk and try to understand the feelings that we have had.”

“I was determined to enjoy every minute I had with him, I didn’t want to feel like I had wasted precious time being sad and looking back and having regrets. We also didn’t want to make cancer the focus of our lives, as much for the kids as anything else.”


Published December 2015

To be reviewed December 2017

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