You may have been expecting your diagnosis, or it might have come completely out of the blue. Either way it is never easy. Here we look at ways of dealing with the emotional impact of an ovarian cancer diagnosis.
- Coping with your diagnosis
- Finding support
- Before your treatment
- During treatment
- Coping with the side effects of treatment
- Alternative treatments
- After your treatment
- Will the cancer come back?
You may be feeling a variety of emotions ranging from sadness to anxiety, or perhaps hopelessness and fear. It is also common to feel anger. It might be directed at your doctor, if you feel the diagnosis was delayed, or perhaps at yourself for not sensing that something was wrong.
You may be desperately searching for the reason you got cancer. This is quite common, and is a way of trying to gain control over the situation. Unfortunately we don’t always know why cancer occurs and this can be frustrating.
We are all individuals and cope with a diagnosis of cancer in different ways. Some people see cancer as a challenge to overcome. Others would rather not talk or think about it. All these emotions are very normal and understandable, particularly just after diagnosis. There is no right or wrong way to feel.
At the time of diagnosis, it is important to feel that you have support.
If you have close relationships with family and friends these can be particularly important at this time but things may not be straightforward. Your family and friends will be experiencing some of the same emotions as you. Although most relationships get stronger, some people won’t know what to say and may avoid you, which can make you feel hurt and rejected. Others may tell you to “stay positive”. This is meant well but can be very tiring. Remember it is OK to feel sad and not very positive about anything.
The emotions you experienced when you were told you had cancer will not go away overnight. You may need some help to come to terms with your diagnosis and reduce some of those feelings.
It can help to find people, organisations or groups who have experience of what it means to have cancer. No one except you can truly know how you feel, but there are people out there who will have a good idea.
It may take you a while to find out what works for you. You may want to look into:
Feeling low following a cancer diagnosis is common and normal. However, if you find that your feelings start to have a big impact on your life, perhaps affecting your sleep and weight, please talk to your CNS or GP. Just talking to someone who is a good listener can be a great relief.
Counselling or therapy can help you understand how cancer fits in with other major life events and why you are feeling the way you do. If you feel that counselling is not necessary at this point, simply writing about how you feel for 10-20 minutes a day has been shown to reduce psychological distress.
Exercise can also be helpful. You may not feel like exercising if you are extremely tired but even walking around the block is better than nothing.
A variety of treatments lie ahead and sometimes in differing orders. If surgery is recommended you may want it done quickly so that the cancer can be removed, or you may be dreading it as it may mean the end of your fertility.
Facing the first dose of chemotherapy can be particularly hard as we all have an image in our heads of what it will be like. The doctors and nurses will tell you what side effects to expect, but each person will react slightly differently so let them know how you feel throughout your treatment.
At each clinic appointment the doctors and nurses will ask you how you are. One of the things you may be feeling is extreme tiredness. It may be tempting to play down side effects and keep them to yourself so that it looks like you are coping better than you are.
If you are unusually tired, or have other side effects, speak to the doctors and nurses about it as there may well be something they can do to help.
If you are told you are going to lose your hair you may feel very upset. Having no hair constantly reminds us of our cancer and makes us feel different.
You may want to prepare by:
- getting a short haircut
- buying scarves and hats
- considering getting a wig
This can be an emotional experience and you may feel particularly vulnerable at this time. You may wake up one morning to find hair on the pillow or in the shower tray. At this point many people shave their hair off.
Wigs can be hot and itchy but they are now excellent quality and look like natural hair. It is entirely your choice whether you wear one or not. Ask your CNS if there is a free wig service at your hospital.
Going out for the first time when your hair is gone takes courage. As time goes by, and you see that people react with kindness, it becomes easier. Remember - your hair will grow back.
It is common for people with cancer, particularly if the prognosis is challenging, to search for new treatments and ‘miracle cures’ and there are plenty available for a price.
If you are tempted to try a ‘miracle cure’ you find on the internet please discuss this with your doctor first.
Unfortunately, not everyone has our best interests at heart. Some people just want to make money out of us at a time when we are particularly vulnerable.
Finishing treatment can be frightening, and the emotional and physical side effects don't go away overnight. It can take a long time to start feeling better emotionally, and you will still have bad days, so don't be hard on yourself.
Family and friends might be expecting you to be 'getting over it' or may want to wrap you in cotton wool and stop you doing anything. Either reaction can be frustrating. If people are treating you differently let them know you are the same person that you were before you had cancer - try to tell them how you feel.
As you adjust to your diagnosis and treatment the feelings of anxiety and depression will lessen and you may experience more good days than bad, but don’t feel pressured to be ‘back to normal’ as soon as your treatment is over.
No one will be able to give you a yes or no answer to this question.
There is always a possibility of the cancer returning but we don't know which women will relapse and which will not. The chance of recurrence will depend on a combination of a number of things, including the tumour stage and your response to surgery and chemotherapy.
It's normal to feel worried about your cancer coming back. No one can take these feelings away. Many women go through this experience and gradually begin to live with this worry in the background rather than thinking about it all the time.
If your anxiety about your cancer returning is getting in the way of everyday life, you might want to think about speaking to a professional about your feelings.
If your cancer does come back, the symptoms you might experience may not be the same as the first time. So it is important to get to know all the common symptoms of ovarian cancer so that you can tell your CNS or GP and get checked out quickly.
Symptoms you should always report:
• persistent pelvic or abdominal pain (that's your tummy and below)
• increased abdominal size/persistent bloating – not bloating that comes and goes
• difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
• urinary symptoms (needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual)
Occasionally there are other symptoms: changes in bowel habit, extreme fatigue (feeling very tired), unexplained weight loss. If you experience these symptoms or are worried about other symptoms tell your CNS or GP straight away. You do not need to wait for your next appointment.
Find out more
This content is primarily taken from What happens next?
Our expert guide answers your questions following a diagnosis, providing information on everything from treatment to taking care of yourself, and advice on where to find support in the months ahead.
The information on this page is approved by the Information Standard scheme to ensure that it provides accurate and high-quality information.
Last reviewed: November 2016
Next review: October 2019