The Mental Health Impact of Cancer
A cancer diagnosis and your subsequent treatment can have a significant impact on your mental wellbeing. When this happens in tandem with a pregnancy or birth, that impact is intensified.
While some mums and parents find thinking positively helps them to manage their diagnosis, treatment and beyond, others experience heavier emotions such as guilt, fear, anger, sadness, and anxiety. These emotions can be intense and overwhelming, can change over time and can be difficult to experience. It is important to remember that all of these feelings are completely normal and not something to feel ashamed about or to try to hide
Some of the common ones are:
Guilt may be focused on the fact that you have cancer in the first place, that somehow you were living wrong or doing something to bring it on. There can be feelings of guilt around treatment choices, the potential effects of treatment on your baby in the short and long term, and how your cancer diagnosis will impact your family. You may also feel guilty if your feeding or parenting choices are impacted and this may grow into a sense that you are unable to be the mum or parent you wanted to be.
Cancer can create a great deal of fear including how you are going to manage treatment, how you will look after your children, what the future holds, and a fear of dying. You may find it difficult to talk about these fears with loved ones as you may want to try and protect each other.
Feeling angry is a common reaction to a diagnosis of cancer and can range from mild frustration to rage. You may feel that cancer has taken away your chance to have a ‘normal’ pregnancy or it has overshadowed the pregnancy and parenthood experience. You may also feel jealous of other parents and families who get to go through pregnancy without cancer affecting them at all. Feeling angry at how your relationships and physical capacity may be changed is also common.
It can be painful to let go of how your life was and how you imagined it to be, prior to a cancer diagnosis. This can create feelings of sadness and grief. Treatment and side effects can make you feel isolated from friends and family and can eat into your time meaning you have less contact with them. There can be sadness that your body may look and behave differently following treatment. Cancer can also affect breastfeeding and fertility which can create additional sadness.
It is normal to feel anxious after a diagnosis of cancer. Anxiety could be linked to how you are going to manage family life and treatment, how effective the treatment is going to be or the financial impact of a cancer diagnosis. When treatment ends there can be anxiety about the significance of new symptoms, how the diagnosis has changed you and your relationships, and if cancer will come back.
Future hospital appointments, scans ('scan-xiety'), check-ups and anniversaries can also provoke intense anxiety, bringing up difficult memories and feelings.
Both pregnancy and cancer can have a huge impact on your body and mind. Be kind to yourself and take gentle care as you go through the changes it brings. If you experience any of these feelings for too long or too strongly, do not hesitate to reach out for support.
If you are recently diagnosed or in active treatment, ask your healthcare team about what support is available, they may be able to refer you to a hospital-based support service and further organisations.
Following treatment, you can continue to support from your Mummy's Star Support Worker for as long as you like. There are also a number of organisations providing this kind of tailored support, including:
Life After Cancer - an organisation that supports adults to increase their mental wellbeing after cancer
Shine Cancer Support - who run an online Break Out programme for people in their 20’s-40’s helping them to deal with the impact that cancer has had on their lives.
Team Verrico - offers to fund counselling for any adult who has experienced cancer even after their treatment is over
You may choose to pursue private counselling as a way to explore and process the psychological impact of your cancer diagnosis and treatment. Both the BACP www.bacpregister.co.uk and Counselling Directory www.counselling-directory.org.uk have search facilities where you can search for qualified and registered therapists in your area. If cost is a barrier, you can ask your GP to refer you for counselling via the NHS and there are services that may fund some counselling provision, and others that provide low/no income counselling services.
If you would like support around the psychological impact of cancer please contact your Information Support Worker or email us at email@example.com to self refer.
If you are feeling unsafe or in crisis please contact one of the following for immediate support:
If you are in immediate danger: DIAL 999
Emergency Mental Health Line: 111, Choose Option 2
Samaritans 24hr Helpline: 116 123
Shout Crisis Text Line: text 'SHOUT' to 85258
24hr National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247
Childline: 0800 1111 7.30am-3.30am