Dealing with the emotional impact of pancreatic cancer

Everyone reacts differently to being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We explain how to find support.

Key facts

  • When you are first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, you may go through lots of emotions from shock to sadness and fear. This is normal, and getting support can help.
  • It’s common for people with pancreatic cancer to have anxiety and depression. But there are things that can help with this.
  • Talk to your nurse and medical team about how you feel. They can support you, and refer you for more support.
  • Try talking to others who have been affected by pancreatic cancer. They can understand how you are feeling. Read more about how we can put you in touch with people with pancreatic cancer.
  • There are other things that can help, like getting support for symptoms, gentle physical activity and complementary therapies.
  • We have a range of services that can support you.
  • Your family and friends might also find things difficult, and they can also get support from our services.

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.

Speak to our nurses

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.

Speak to our nurses
Pancreatic Cancer Nurse Jeni Jones

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, or you may not want to talk to family and friends at all. You may worry that your family will find talking about it too upsetting. But talking openly about your feelings or wishes can help your family and friends support you. Macmillan Cancer Support have information about talking about cancer.

You can also talk to your medical team. You will be given a main contact, who will usually be a specialist nurse. They can provide emotional support as well as medical care. Talk to your nurse about how you’re feeling. Being open with them will help them support you better.

Talk to others affected by cancer

You might find it helps to talk to others affected by pancreatic cancer, who can understand what you are going through.

Cancer centres such as Maggie’s centres or Macmillan information and support centres provide emotional support. They can also help with other things, such as dealing with the effects of treatment, and financial worries. Ask your nurse about local cancer centres.

Counselling

Counselling or ‘talking therapy’ involves talking to a trained professional about your thoughts and feelings. It may help you work through your feelings and find ways of coming to terms with things. There are different ways to get counselling.

You can also ask to be referred for psychological support. Psychological support services help people with psychological (emotional) problems. You might be offered different types of support from health professionals such as counsellors, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists or social workers. Your family can also get support.

"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."

Getting spiritual support

Spirituality means different things to different people – whether you follow a religion or not. Being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer may mean that you think more about your spirituality. Spiritual practice, including religion, may become more important to you. You may want to speak to a faith leader if you have a religion.

Your local hospital may have a chaplaincy service. Chaplains are trained specialists who can help people of any or no religion find meaning and explore what’s important to them.

“My faith was a very important factor in my journey with pancreatic cancer.”

What can I do to help me cope?

Finding ways to cope may help you feel more in control. Some people find these things helpful.

  • Try to sort out things that might be worrying you. For example, get help with any symptoms or financial issues.
  • Find things that you enjoy doing, and that might help take your mind off the cancer. Some examples include seeing friends and family, hobbies, going for a walk, listening to or playing music, reading or watching television.
  • Make plans and have things to look forward to, even if it’s just for the next weekend. The charity Something to look forward to provides gifts and treats to people with cancer, and have a specific project for people with pancreatic cancer.
  • Try breathing and relaxation exercises. You can find apps and audio recordings to help with this on the NHS mental health apps library.
  • 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.
  • Complementary therapies such as acupuncture or massage may help reduce stress and relieve symptoms such as fatigue.

“I planned an ‘outing’ on the week that I was not having chemotherapy. Something to look forward to such as trip to the cinema or theatre or just meeting a friend for a coffee.”

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.

Published December 2020

To be reviewed December 2022