6 Stages of Cancer
The feelings and thoughts of patients and families dealing with cancer change with the stages of cancer – diagnosis, treatment, and post treatment, continued treatment, end of life and after the loss of a loved one. The Center for Cancer Counseling offers specialized support and tools & techniques to help patients and families deal with a “new normal” life along the way at each of these stages.
As soon as the doctor says, ”You have cancer,” our worlds are turned upside down. It feels like the wind has been knocked out of us and it is hard to breathe. The shock and fear are simply overwhelming.
Life as we once knew it is now overshadowed by the demands of the diagnostic tests that tell us just far the cancer has grown. During the first few weeks after a cancer diagnosis many extremely important decisions have to be made. We need to learn an entire new body of information to understand what is happening. We need to choose a physician and agree to difficult treatments that will hopefully save our life.
At the center we help you learn how to cope with all of the emotions and life changes that accompany this new world. During our individual one on one session we are able to talk openly about our deepest worries and concerns.
For example, I am so angry, why me? Will people look at me differently? I am afraid of dying; did I cause this cancer by how I live, my stress, eating patterns? Could I have somehow prevented it, done something different? I can’t stop thinking about the cancer, I feel like crying all of the time, I feel all alone in this nightmare, I feel like no one really understands, I can’t believe this is really happening.
Once the decisions are made and treatment begins, most of us focus on surviving. The best we can do is focus on life one day at a time, getting through the treatments and waiting time out until we can return to our “real life”.
Since this treatment phase involves a fairly substantial amount of time it’s very helpful to develop tools and strategies to deal with our “real lives” in the midst of the physical and emotional challenge, changes, and side effects that the cancer and its treatments present.
It is during the treatment phase that people tell us things like “ I did not realize how many emotions I was holding onto”. “ It is so good to hear that what I am feeling is normal” “ I don’t share the difficulties in managing the treatments and side effects because I don’t want to be seen as complaining”. “ It feels as if I could spend everyday whining about how bad I feel”. When people ask how are you I say” which life are you talking about. In my life prior to cancer I’d say I feel really sick, in this life I say not bad today”. “: But I always feel better after I leave these sessions”. “ I feel relieved”.
In addition to our struggles, our families, partners, children, friends and co-workers need help in dealing with their fears, concerns and changes in these relationships that the cancer and the treatments bring along with them.
Family meetings help everyone talk about this cancer experience. For the first time children ask questions. Partners talk about feeling out of control and afraid. Couples discuss the changes in their relationship and responsibilities, and work on how to maintain their closeness and affection in the midst of so many medical demands. For many couples this is the first discussion about how their sex life has changed. For others, this is the first time they have cried together or mourned the loss of their life before cancer. At the center we help you learn how to work together to cope and manage during this very difficult time.
Once the treatment stage is complete, new fears arise. What if it isn’t all gone? What if it returns? Will we ever feel like ourselves again? In addition, it is a bit frightening to no longer have the protection of receiving treatments and seeing the medical professionals on a regular basis.
The expectation is that life will just fall back to where it was before the cancer. Everyone is taken back by the recovery process and is impatient for life to get back to normal. Recovery can look different and take longer than anyone had anticipated. For many of us this is also the first time that we have time to feel our emotions. Life is less hectic and feelings are free to surface.
It is at this time that the Center can be of great assistance. We understand how this recovery looks and can help you set realistic goals and communication with your families and friends.
It is also at this time that we realize we are not done with the cancer. Checkups will continue for a lifetime and sometimes addition medications may need to be taken. Realizing that our lives are now a “new normal” of living with cancer is a big adjustment.
For some of us, treatments become our “new normal”. More and more people are living for longer periods of time because of the wonderful advancements of science and the treatments that are available. This is an enormous challenge and a difficult one to adjust to.
There are issues around grieving for our former lives and what feels like the loss of many dreams and wishes. Learning to live in this new world and redefining your life is a major component. At the Center we help us and our family members accomplish these goals with the focus on being able to live productive rewarding lives, filled with fun and satisfaction, even with the addition of the treatments.
End of Life
When cancer is terminal, our families and we are faced with a crisis that no one can be prepared for. There are tools that definitely help ease the emotional pain, bring families closer and ensure that no one is left alone with their fears and sadness. The Center can help guide us through this phase and help you accomplish the best quality of life for as long as possible. Family meetings are needed more during this time than ever. This is the last opportunity to have some potent discussions with each other. This is the time for families to have precious memories together. We can help facilitate these meetings so that all of the important things that need to be discussed are covered.
After the Loss of a Loved One
Whether we are an adult, child or teen who has lost a partner, sibling, parent, or child, the Center understands the special challenges that grief present in these different situations. Once again, life takes on a “new normal” that can feel almost impossible to tolerate. The Center can help you manage this process in ways that allow us to go forward with our lives feeling more in control and enable you to help the rest of your family. For example, kids and teens grieve differently from adults. How to best help the kids is a specialized service that we offer families.