Emotions of Cancer

Cancer and Grief

Grief is the emotion that all humans feel after they lose someone or something they love. Everyone experiences bereavement – the processes of grieving – in their own way, and it is important to remember that this is a natural and important experience for every individual.

Understanding Grief

Grief comes in many shapes and forms, and it is not always associated simply with death. Cancer has the power to cause many opportunities for grief, such as loss of independence, the loss of fertility, or the loss of body parts, such as the breast/s.

There are typically three terms associated with the process of grief, that have different meanings but are at times (wrongly) used interchangeably. 

  • Grief is the natural response to an experience of loss
  • Mourning involved shifting your life to adapt after a loss occurs
  • Bereavement is the state a person finds themselves in after experiencing a loss

Reactions to Grief

Reactions to grief vary from person to person and can often evolve over time. They may come in the form of:

  • Thoughts: These thoughts may include disbelief, confusion, hallucinations or difficulty concentrating.
  • Feelings: These feelings may include a combination of depression, sadness, relief, anxietydenial or yearning. There can be many triggers that last a lifetime that make such feelings reappear.
  • Behaviors: Grief can change many of your typical behaviors. It can trigger insomnia, restlessness, it can cause people to isolate themselves or stop eating. Grief can also cause a person to become more angry or irritable than they were before.
  • Physical changes: Grief can affect the body in a physical manner also. This can range from nausea, to tightness in the chest, numbness, and you may even become vulnerable to sickness.

The Experience of Grief

There is no right or wrong way to experience grief. It often comes or goes in waves that cannot be predicted or fully understood. This means that grief never really leaves a person, the waves often before less intense and less frequent. It can take a great deal of time to adjust to living with your grief.

For religious or spiritual people, grief can make changes to your beliefs. Grief can either strengthen your beliefs, or make you question your faith or viewpoint of the world.

The Four Tasks of Mourning

While there are many psychological theories that relate to how people adjust to loss, the commonly accepted theory is the four tasks of mourning. These include:

  • Accepting your loss
  • Experiencing the grief of your loss
  • Adjusting to your new life
  • Finding ways to keep a connection between yourself and the deceased.

The Changing Nature of Grief

As we have stated, grief is an individual experience. There are certain factors that can change the nature of grief, however. These can include:

  • The cause of death (whether it was sudden or over a long period of time)
  • The relationship between the bereaved and the dead
  • Support systems available
  • The grieving persons personality, age and gender
  • Spiritual beliefs
  • History of loss 

Cultural Reactions to Grief

While grief is an individual experience, a person’s grief may be shaped by their culture and society. There are many different cultural beliefs surrounding death and this can change the way a person grieves. It is important to understand that everyone grieves in their own way, and a person, including yourself, may grieve in a way that is different from what is expected, and this is okay.