How Cancer Counselling Works

Cancer Support Richmond: Listening to your story
Cancer Counselling: Listening to your story

What’s the point in talking about cancer?  It does not make the cancer go away?!

Cancer counselling can help with the often devastating emotional impact, which can stay long after treatment has finished. Cancer counselling can help you, if you have been diagnosed or treated, if you are family or a friend, or an employer with staff who have cancer.

Cancer counselling is about providing you with a safe space where to tell your story, without worry of burdening another or being judged.

At the heart of ‘talking therapy’ is the belief that we all have the capacity to cope with difficult situations.   Saying out loud in the company of another, who is neutral, listens to you with patience and compassion can cause a positive shift towards making sense, finding answers and moving on from whatever feelings that kept you stuck. Sometimes this process takes a while, sometimes it can happen fast.

Different people choose cancer counselling for different reasons and at different junctions of their journey, just like with counselling or therapy decisions during other life events. Similarly, this choice can take courage, because not everybody may find it easy or wants to talk about how cancer is affecting them.

Some emotional responses are common (and normal) among people affected by cancer such as disbelief, denial, anger, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, depression, anxiety and loneliness.

An overarching feeling can be that of bereavement for the permanent or temporary loss of health, a certain way of life, security (eg health, financial, social status, spiritual or religious beliefs), loss of hope, aspirations and sense self worth. Often people feel demoralised and ‘reduced to being only about cancer’.

Relational difficulties are not uncommon either, as the diagnosis can often be the catalyst for dealing with dissatisfaction and issues, which may have built up over time. People become irritable and fearful. Family and friends may find it difficult to deal with the diagnosis, leaving the person with the illness feeling abandoned.

While the cancer journey is as individual as the person who goes through it the following are some key moments, when people may opt for counselling:

  • During a lengthy diagnosis process and before confirmation of a cancer diagnosis: to help deal with the fears and prepare for potential scenarios.

  • After diagnosis: to help deal with the emotional impact, provide some grounding and help think through helpful coping strategies for what may lie ahead.

  • During treatment: to assist with treatment difficulties (eg needle phobia, or an aversion to intravenous chemotherapy, anxiety attacks) or treatment side effects (eg hair loss , body image issues following a mastectomy, lymphoedema, early menopause, low sex drive or impotence).

  • After treatment: to assist with the start of life with or beyond cancer, once a person no longer has regular medical appointments, treatments or check-ups, which can leave people feel insecure and unsure how to continue leading their working and personal lives. The emotional impact of cancer can be felt long after treatment has finished, and resurface esp around check-up times.

  • In case of a cancer recurrence: some people opt for counselling to deal with the impact of this news and to decide how to live the rest of their lives.

  • In case of terminal cancer: some people opt for counselling to help prepare for the ending of their lives.

  • Due to cancer diagnosis and treatment some people find themselves in the position of having to decide whether to make difficult lifestyle changes, eg change in diet and leaving out favourite foods, stopping smoking or drinking alcohol. Others are unable to continue with favourite past times, like sports or socialising. Especially where these activities or habits have become important in dealing with stress, having to abandon them can (initially) cause stress, anxiety and frustration. Counselling can assist in processing these difficult emotions and provide support in building resilience and determination to face up to these choices.

Family and friends often turn to counselling, as they can also find themselves under an emotional burden, when most of the attention (understandably so) is on the person with cancer. Common emotional difficulties are anger, anxiety, depression, helplessness, guilt, loneliness, bereavement and loss.

Feel free to contact me in confidence for an initial meeting to see how cancer counselling may help you.

(C) Cancer Support Richmond, Parkshot House, 5 Kew Road, Richmond, TW9 2PR