What can help me deal with the emotional impact of pancreatic cancer?

Dealing with the emotional impact of pancreatic cancer is hard, but there are things that can help.

What's in the 'Emotional impact of pancreatic cancer' section?


You and your family should be given information and support to help you manage the emotional (psychological) impact of pancreatic cancer. This is part of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for pancreatic cancer.

Within the first few weeks of being diagnosed you should be offered information and support to help you understand your diagnosis and treatment options. This should be tailored to your needs.

Talking to someone

You may be able to get emotional support from anyone who you feel comfortable sharing your feelings with and who is able to listen. Family members and friends are often great sources of emotional support.

But it’s not always easy to share your feelings with people you are close to.

It can also help to speak to someone you don’t know. There are different ways that you can get support.

Contact our Support Line. We have a dedicated team of nurses ready to offer help through our Support Line. From tailored information on treatments, managing symptoms or coping with emotions, they can recommend practical steps and bring comfort and reassurance.

“Definitely speak, tell people how you think and feel because they can understand.”

Talking to your nurse or another health professional. You may have a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) at the hospital, or a community or district nurse who comes to see you at home. You can also speak to our specialist nurses. Any nurses involved in your care can provide you with information, help managing symptoms and emotional support.

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.

There are different ways to get psychological support:

  • Ask your GP or nurse to refer you. You can also refer yourself using the NHS website.
  • Check what is offered through your local hospital, hospice, Macmillan information and support centre, or Maggie’s centre. If you live in Wales, you can get support from Tenovus Cancer Care. If you live in Northern Ireland, Cancer Focus NI and Action Cancer provide support.
  • Mind have information about how to find a counsellor or therapist.

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.

Psychotherapy is another word for talking therapy. You may also hear it called psychological therapy. Research shows that psychotherapy can help people with depression if you have advanced cancer (cancer that has spread to other parts of the body).

Sometimes you can have group therapy, where you can share tips and coping strategies with others. You can also and talk about difficult topics and issues such as anger, fear of the cancer coming back or guilt.

What if I don’t want to talk about it?

Speaking to someone might not always be right for you. Maybe you need to take time on your own to work through your feelings.

There are a few things that you could try if you don’t want to talk about it.

Writing things down

Getting your thoughts down on paper can help you to feel like you’re getting them out of your head, and can help you to deal with them.

Some people like to keep a journal, where they write down how they are feeling. This can help you keep track of your mood and notice how your feelings can change.

You could also write a letter to yourself or someone you know. You don’t have to show it to anyone, but it can make writing easier if you have someone in mind to write to.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a type of meditation that encourages you to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, and focus on the present moment. It can help people with depression and anxiety, as well as improving general emotional wellbeing.

You can find lots of mindfulness apps for your phone. Your hospital, hospice, complementary therapy team, or cancer centre may also offer meditation or relaxation sessions.

Connecting with others affected by pancreatic cancer

Other people affected by pancreatic cancer can really understand how you feel. Connecting with others who have had similar experiences can make a big difference. You could connect through our online support sessions, our discussion forum, or through a support group. If you are having surgery to remove the cancer, we can put you in touch with a trained volunteer who can talk about what it’s like to have surgery.

“It was very helpful to hear about experiences from other people at the support session. Telling my story made me feel like someone took part of a heavy burden off my shoulders. Hearing other people's stories gave me other perspectives, hope and strength.”

Amra

“At first I was reluctant to access the support as cancer is not something that is readily talked about in my community but the support I received was phenomenal. It really helped knowing that someone else had taken the path I was now taking, that really helped me to deal with my diagnosis.”

Zahida

Self-care tips

Self-care means doing things to take care of yourself.

Taking care of practical things can have a big impact on your wellbeing. Sorting out your finances, getting someone to take care of jobs around the house, or asking someone for help looking after your family or pets are all things that can take away stress.

Here are some more ideas.

  • Try to do things you enjoy and bring you comfort. If it’s difficult to keep up with old hobbies and activities could you find a different way of doing them?
  • Think about what you can control. Maybe it’s choosing the food you eat, or choosing your favourite books to read, TV shows or films to watch, or listening to music.
  • Set some small goals to help you focus on the present. This could be related to your hobbies or interests, learning or doing new things, or planning people or places to visit. You could aim to notice things around you each day, like the weather, the seasons changing, or flowers and plants growing.
  • Be realistic about what you can achieve. Don’t try to do more than you are able to.
  • Stay connected with friends and family. If you can’t visit them in person stay in touch through phone and video calls, or writing emails, letters or cards.
  • Plan treats for yourself and your family, whether it is a day trip or ways to pamper yourself at home. The charity Something To Look Forward To provides people and their families affected by cancer with donated gifts, from meals out to short breaks away and day tickets to popular attractions.

Physical activity can help you feel better, and cope better with treatment. You may not feel like going far but try to spend some time outdoors or do light exercise at home. Trying to do some gentle exercise, such as walking, as often as you can has lots of benefits for your health and wellbeing.

If walking is too tricky, there are exercises you can do at home including Pilates, yoga or seated exercises. Macmillan Cancer Support has a free booklet that provides information and advice on being more active.

If you are feeling very tired, you may find this affects your mood. Fatigue is extreme tiredness. It can be difficult to cope with, and may make you feel down. There are things that can help. For example, physical activity can help with fatigue and increase energy levels. It’s also important to let yourself rest when you need to. It’s key to listen to your body. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it so you can rest. Read more about what can help with fatigue.

You could try some complementary therapies which can include massage, acupuncture, mindfulness and grounding techniques. These may help you relax, take your mind off pancreatic cancer, and focus on the present moment.

Spiritual support

Being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer may mean that you think more about your spirituality and the meaning of life. You may find meaning through your daily life, connecting with nature or speaking to others. For others it may be more about their faith.

Spirituality means different things to different people. You may already have a faith or may want to explore your beliefs about life. If spiritual or religious practice is important to you then you may want to speak to your faith community or a faith leader.

Most hospitals have a chaplaincy service, where trained specialists help people with or without religion find meaning and explore what’s important to them.

Getting support for pancreatic cancer symptoms

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer can have a big effect on your emotional wellbeing. Finding ways to manage your symptoms can help improve how you feel.

Getting support to manage pain and tiredness can help you feel better emotionally.

Problems with eating and digestion can also have a big impact on how you feel. Nausea, indigestion, weight loss, diarrhoea (runny poo), and problems eating can be upsetting. If you have lost weight you may feel different about your body.

Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy can help with these symptoms. This can make a big difference to how you feel, physically and emotionally, and how you cope with treatment.

Palliative care

If you have cancer that can’t be treated with surgery (inoperable pancreatic cancer), accessing palliative care early can be helpful.

Palliative care and supportive care specialists can provide care to manage pain and other symptoms. They also offer emotional and practical support. They can help you live as comfortably and independently as possible and improve your quality of life.

The thought of palliative care can be upsetting, but these services aren’t just for people at the end of their lives. They are available at any point during your care. Find out more about palliative care.

“Talking to people that have been in similar situations has really helped. I joined groups on social media for this as there is a lot of good knowledge to be given. Having a good support network makes a big difference.”

Published August 2022

To be reviewed August 2024