Last updated: July 2023
When I sat down to think about this article, my first thought was that I had absolutely no idea what the expected emotions of a cancer diagnosis would be when I was diagnosed. Therefore virtually every emotion I experienced was unexpected!
From shock to despair
The reality is that being diagnosed with cancer, especially incurable cancer in my case, results in a complete array of emotions ranging from utter devastation and horror to anxiety, grief, and despair.
Hearing the words cancer and incurable when a doctor is talking about you is probably the most difficult conversation you’ll ever have, perhaps apart from being told that your child is seriously ill, and my immediate and expected emotion was utter devastation. I spent way too much time over the next 18 months thinking about dying!
Strangely and almost certainly unexpected was the sense of relief felt when a treatment program was agreed to and started. It was never going to cure me, but hopefully it would keep me alive longer than my worst case prognosis of two years.
Sharing the news with my wife
When I was told about my diagnosis, I was 15 minutes away from home and had to drive there, in floods of tears, to tell me wife. My next emotion was most definitely unexpected and born out of a desire to protect my wife. It was also a major mistake!
I thought that the best way to protect her was to push her away, the emotion of desire, desire to protect and care for her, because I could no longer look after her properly. The reality of course was that, after I realized my mistake, the overwhelming emotion was a much deeper and closer love and intimacy. Was that unexpected after 37 years of marriage?
The next emotion really shocked me because of its intensity and the major impact it had on me for three years or so. That was anxiety. In the early days, I was having PSA blood tests every two or three weeks, as my treatment was impacting my liver function. The anxiety while waiting for those results was impalpable. Thankfully I learned techniques to help me cope, and the anxiety abated.
I got things so wrong in the first 18 months after my diagnosis, as I really forgot about the joy of living. Ultimately it led to a very low emotional state and depression, which I now know can be quite common in men living with prostate cancer. I knew I needed to seek help and that it was a sign of strength to do so, and again I learned techniques to help me cope.
A very unexpected emotion: joy and happiness
Some of what I’ve narrated is probably expected, some maybe less so. But I guess the most unexpected emotion was that of joy. Joy of living every day to the fullest and getting the most out of it. I got there after that awful first 18 months. Spending as much time with family, especially my grandchildren and building memories for them, has been very special.
Another unexpected emotion was happiness. How can you be happy living with cancer? Well, it’s a state of mind. Feeling my grandsons lean into me, put their heads on my chest, and tell me that they love me has given me more happiness than I ever felt I would have in my life again. Maybe it just means so much more because of the circumstances.
What surprising emotions did you experience?
Finally I could never have imagined how strong the emotion of relief would be when you heard the words “PSA undetectable!” What a massive part of our lives that is!
In closing, I’d love to know if our readers have experienced any emotions that they hadn’t expected following their cancer diagnosis.
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