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Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis.

Counselling — admin @ 7:32 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week our discussion has been about counselling for cancer. There are many different aspects to this but this week we will confine what we say to coping with the diagnosis and aftermath of a cancer diagnosis. To be told by your doctor that you have cancer is initially very shocking. One of the first things you are faced with is your own preconceptions of what a cancer diagnosis may mean. It may have been regarded as the next best thing to a death sentence and you may have to work hard to overcome your own fears in this regard. Our experience is that modern cancer treatment is very effective and that a return to a full and active life can happen quite quickly. The shock to your system of this whole experience may linger and it is this aspect of counselling for cancer which we want to address this week.

Cancer awareness and in particular the importance of early intervention has increased with public information campaigns targeted at particular sets of risk factors and types of cancer. We still probably believe, however, that it will never happen to us. We can therefore become quite worried when we find a lump; a swelling of some sort or a pain which causes us to go to our G.P for assessment.  A temptation towards denial is a feature of serious illness especially cancer. It is important to try to overcome this and seek treatment as soon as possible. Denial is a psychological aspect of illness and it is useful to try to understand it.

A cancer diagnosis may be experienced initially as a serious threat to our self. This will set off a natural process in us as we are programmed by nature to respond automatically to threats. This different with illness is that the threat is internal and we have to face it in order to receive treatment and meet the threat. There is a paradox here whereby the natural defence of denial may actually increase the threat is we choose to ignore it and delay treatment. It is easy to understand this when we think of it abstractly but it is experienced in a very immediate and frightening way when it happens to us.

Like a lot of things in life a cancer diagnosis is something which we imagine as only happening to other people. In order to receive treatment we have to cope with this initial shock and set aside our fears and face into the treatment. These fears may be put to the back of our minds to be dealt with at a later stage and that is where counselling is especially helpful.

Sometimes there isn’t much time between diagnosis and the beginning of treatment and one of the things that you may have to deal with during this time is letting others know. There was a sort of denial present in the public discourse around cancer which we think is changing. It may have been referred to in abstract terms as ‘The Big C’ and spoken of in a kind of hushed or reverential tone reflecting the fear which a cancer diagnosis evoked in people.

Our experience with people diagnosed with cancer is that it is possible to speak about it openly and to say what kind of cancer it is and what the treatment is likely to be. We are sure that this healthy attitude to talking about cancer can also help a person come to terms with their own diagnosis.  The public awareness campaigns which we spoke of earlier have made this task easier. It can put an additional strain on the patient at the same time in that they are put in the position of having to deal the reactions of others and to become a sort of advocate for cancer treatment and care.

Information is a critical tool in gathering your strength for dealing with talking about your cancer diagnosis. There are many organisations and support groups available to offer assistance. Our experience is that oncology specialists and nursing teams are an excellent source of strength and support at this time passing on their in-depth knowledge and valuable experience. This knowledge and the openness which comes with it help to engender a sense of confidence which will help you fight your cancer.

There is so much more to be said about counselling in relation to cancer. We could only cover a couple of points this week but it is a subject we will return to again. For this week we just wanted to say a little about the shock and denial and also about the beginnings of a fighting spirit which is in no small way helped by openness in talking about a cancer diagnosis. Our experience has taught us that sometimes it is only after treatment and a return to normal life that a person can really engage at a deep level with what it means for them. The fears and feelings that are put aside in the initial shock can be dealt with in counselling at a later stage. It is important to understand that this is a natural process. Our minds are designed to save us from having to face for example the fear of our own death. But if these thoughts remain buried and are not dealt with they may leave us feeling fearful and not living life as full as we can. In these instances we find that counselling can be very beneficial when coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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