Cancer and Grief

Cancer Support, Inspiration Add comments

As a stage 4 skin cancer survivor speaker who is all too familiar with grief, I believe we suffer many losses in our life when we have cancer; acknowledge the losses and be gentle with yourself.

Much of our life is taken away from us while we have to deal with this terrible disease called cancer, and our loved ones experience grief along with us. It was written by T.S. Eliot, “When we grieve truly we do it badly.” What this means for you is grief is a normal response to loss and if it is resisted or if attempts are made to suppress it to “keep up appearances” these will only result in your making things worse for yourself and those around you.

Eventually the grief you hold in will explode out of you, or make your cancer even worse because of the body-mind-spirit interconnection which defines your whole being. Let yourself grieve “badly” so your grief can be expressed and you can be a whole human being with your integrity intact. Weep, scream out loud, bury your face in your hands or anything else to express your grief. 

Researchers are in agreement that essentially grief comes to most people in successive stages, usually five distinct ones.

In the Denial stage, people try to make themselves believe that the cancer diagnosis is simply a mistake–it’s not happening to them or their family. This is a self-protection instinct that often leaves people feeling numb or in a state of shock.

Next comes the stage of Anger. Now a person accepts that the cancer diagnosis is not a mistake–it’s real. But the “why me?” attitude rises up and there is white-hot outrage that cancer has come to them, or a friend or loved one. One of the best ways of handling this anger is to exercise or otherwise get some high-energy, focused physical activity. People also find it very helpful to discuss cancer with others who have experienced it or been touched by it, or to write about their experiences and feelings in a journal.

This stage spills over into the one called Bargaining. Many people here suddenly find religion, thinking they have angered God or the divine somehow but that now through religious devotion they will be redeemed and their cancer taken away. The most prominent emotion in this stage is guilt, which is a form of self-hatred. People promise themselves, their loved ones, or God that they will never again do the thing or things that they have decided caused their cancer to come on in the first place.

After a cancer patient has spent enough time feeling guilty and/or trying to pray their way out of your cancer, they reach the stage of Depression. Now the cancer cannot be denied and it cannot be bargained away and anger has not cured it. Feelings of overwhelming sorrow that can cause sensations of physical heaviness come on. These feelings are normal. When a person is depressed for any reason, there are physical conditions that can manifest. These may include too little or too much sleeping, changes in appetite, difficulty concentrating on simple or everyday activities, or being haunted by a constant fear that someone else in the family is now also going to get cancer. Depression should be readily acknowledged and talked about with trusted friends and family, religious figures such as priests, psychiatrists, and/or the presiding medical doctors.

Depression can be a lengthy stage, but at last comes the stage of Acceptance. This is where a person no longer resists the diagnosis of cancer nor tries to wish it or pray it away. It is in the stage of Acceptance where a cancer patient begins finding the strength to truly fight the cancer–this is NOT an acceptance of death. Acceptance has paradoxically positive effects on the patient and the loved ones. This is actually a type of natural cancer treatment, as it feeds positive energy into the body-mind-spirit matrix and facilitates health.
Acceptance banishes guilt, too; for in this stage the person realizes that it’s not their self that is to be hated, but the cancer. Cancer is not a moral issue. It is a matter of needing to make some changes for the sake of one’s health. This means finding and accepting the changes needed to be made and then healing body, mind, emotions and spirit.
Sheila Ulrich Cancer Survivor Speaker

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