How to Cope With the Impact of Cancer on Your Mental Health

There are those rare, pivotal moments in life that never leave you, even after all the other memories have faded away, and for many people that’s the day their doctor called them into his office to tell them, they have cancer.

The impact of cancer on a person’s mental health can, as you might expect, be a negative one at first. Even though the doctor and the specialist may have given the patient an excellent chance of survival after surgery—the word “cancer” still has them rooted to the spot.

For many people diagnosed with cancer, their world closes in around them, they become isolated and nothing else matters, they feel trapped and see no way out. Even their support group can do little to ease their fears because they’re the only one living with it.

As a result of this, living with cancer can often impact on a sufferer’s mental health in three major ways.

Mental numbness

Mental numbness can often cut patients off from their emotions, they’re neither happy, nor angry, or sad, or anything else, they simply just exist. This mental shutdown is often described as being in survival mode and is similar to like flipping an “off” switch to save money and power in a building. For some, the shock and the acute mental agony of knowing there is a tumour inside their body is more than they can process.


It is often said that not only do cancer sufferers become mentally spent, but also they are also physically exhausted. The constant weight of cancer can be insurmountable and inescapable. It can feel like they’re trapped in an invisible world.

The constant thought of this thing inside can keep them up at night. It grips them and forces them to just lay there, staring up at the ceiling, too tired to function and yet unable to rest.


Everything can become too large to tackle after finding out a person has cancer, they can be fearful of everything. There can be a feeling that everyone is out to get them in one way or another, and this paranoia can, if not checked, can be turned into a constant daily struggle, that can on occasion drive people to the edge and lead to severe panic attacks

But as terrifying as this all sounds, it can perhaps have the greatest impact on their mental health in a positive way. Cancer survivors often talk about the positive side of having cancer and the impact it’s had on their life, and how they view life differently and with a new perspective.

Having a new perspective on life

Being a cancer survivor is about more than just surviving, it gives people a chance to see that the world hadn’t stopped for them. And if the world isn’t going to stop, why should they.

Often it’s so easy to take things for granted, but for many cancer survivors, taking anything for granted again is not for them. Instead, they would rather focus on the air they breathe, the earth they walk on, the fact that they have all of my limbs, and a family who loves them.

Often when then diagnosis has been life-threatening, there is a feeling of being given a second chance at life, and they don’t want to waste it.

As they progress the metaphorical darkness lifts and so does the heavy, sucking weight of anxiety. With this new chance at life, it often leads to learning other ways to cope with the impact cancer has on their mental health.

Here are some of the ways that have worked at nurturing their mental health:

  1. Have a consistent support system in place (family, friends, or even pets).
  2. Being organised with their time and medical information.
  3. Spending time with loved ones.
  4. Embracing their passion.
  5. Remembering to breathe and, if possible find time to meditate.
  6. Listen to inspiring podcasts.
  7. Connect with people who have been through what they have.
  8. Written about their experiences in a journal or record them in a video.
  9. Never take anything for granted and remember you’re alive.
  10. Be honest with yourself and remember you are worth it.

Cancer doesn’t have to be the end of your world. Yes, the day of your diagnosis might be the worst of your life but, if you push through and don’t let anything stop you, you’ll have the chance to appreciate every waking moment.

Let’s not kid ourselves cancer, no matter the kind, is a devastating diagnosis. It can strip you and the world of its beauty, and make you feel empty and hopeless. But, it can also ignite a fire inside that will never be extinguished.

Learning more about living with Cancer.

To learn more about living with Cancer and the available support visit, Cancer Pro is the voice of the world’s cancer physicians and oncology professionals and is one of the top cancer information resources in the wider ASEAN region.