Dealing and living with cancer can be stressful. There isn't a 'right' way to deal with CLL, everyone has their own way of dealing with illness and the different emotions.
You may have experienced many emotions when you became unwell – shock, disbelief, anxiety, sadness, guilt, loneliness, anger to name a few27. Your family, friends and colleagues may also have experienced a parallel range of emotions as they deal with and come to terms with what you are experiencing27.
Feelings of isolation are also not uncommon due to looking ‘well’ on the outside despite being ill. This may be further exacerbated by choosing to avoid social situations because you might pick up infections.
Talking to your family, friends and work colleagues about your CLL so they understand the chronic nature of your condition and how it impacts your life both practically and emotionally may help. Let them know what activities you can do and others you are not comfortable with due to infection risk or fatigue – for instance, if they have a cold you may prefer they call you rather than meet in person. If support from family, friends or patient support groups is not sufficient, it is perfectly normal (and OK) to ask for further support.
As a first step, discuss your concerns with a member of your health care team or general practitioner, who will be able to give you guidance on who to speak to and how to go about it. Patient support groups can often offer further advice and support. They may also be able to give you guidance on who to contact. Speaking one-on-one with a trained counselor can help sort out your feelings and find ways of coping with them.
Dealing with sadness
Common symptoms of sadness28:
- Feelings of disappointment
- Feeling upset and crying
- Avoiding friends and family and not doing things you used to do
Getting support from others can be a helpful way to cope with sadness, as well as other difficult emotions. Planning ahead for who you can ask for help may make asking easier. Take a couple minutes to think about who you might ask and write it down.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or your feelings are affecting your daily life, you may want to seek professional help from your doctor or a therapist.
Dealing with anxiety
Common symptoms of anxiety29:
- Worrying more often and having a hard time relaxing
- Becoming frustrated or angered more easily
- Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep because your mind is too active
- Difficulty focusing on things
- Loss of appetite
Catch yourself. Try to notice when you are worrying by watching for clues of anxiety, like shallow breathing, feeling tension in your muscles and feeling distracted. Practicing relaxation strategies can help with these symptoms.
Breathing to relax. Deep breathing is a great way to relax and reduce stress. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to do deep breathing30. Take a moment to try it now.
Dealing with anger
Common symptoms of anger31
- Feeling irritable
- Being short-tempered with others
- Sadness can be a symptom of anger
Writing about your emotions and feelings - Keeping a journal can have many benefits, including reducing stress and worries32. Here are some tips on how to start and use a journal:
- Plan a quiet time with no interruptions each day or a few times a week
- Start writing. Write about your experiences that day, about thoughts running through your head, or about your hopes and fears. There are no rules about what or how you should write
- Read past entries. It might help you better understand your experiences
27. Macmillan Cancer Support. Cancer and your feelings. September 2014. Available at: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/coping/your-emotions/dealing-with-youremotions/cancer-and-your-feelings.html. Accessed April 2017.
28. CRUK – coping with sadness. Available at: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/coping-with-cancer/coping-emotionally/cancer-and-your-emotions/sadness-and-depression/coping-with-sadness. Accessed September 2015.
29. CRUK – about fear, anxiety and panic. Available at: http://www.cancresearchuk.org/about-cancer/coping-with-cancer/coping-emotionally/cancer-and-your-emotions/fear-anxiety-and-panic/about-fear-anxiety-and-panic. Accessed September 2015.
30. NHS – relaxation tips to relieve stress. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/ways-relieve-stress. aspx. Accessed September 2015.
31. CRUK – guilt, blame and anger. Available at: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/coping-with-cancer/coping-emotionally/cancer-and-your-emotions/guilt-blame-and-anger. Accessed September 2015.
32. Graf, M.C., et al. Written emotional disclosure: a controlled study of the benefitd of expressive writinghomework in outpatient psychotherapy. Psychother Res. 2008;18(4):389–399.