It’s OK to not feel OK.

Cancer is tough on the mind as well as the body. But everyone reacts differently, and there's no right or wrong way to respond. Whatever you're feeling is absolutely, completely 100% natural.

So if you’re finding it difficult, don’t give yourself a hard time – it’s OK to get upset. You might be more used to putting on a brave face, but that’s not always the best way to deal with cancer.

Pretending you’re OK can be exhausting and stop you opening up to people, which can actually help you feel a lot better.

So if you’re feeling down, try to be honest about it. Everyone struggles with this. It’s never easy. And no one will think any less of you if you admit you’re having a tough day.

Coping strategies

A coping strategy is basically anything you do to make yourself feel less stressed. And because cancer can be pretty stressful, it’s a good idea to have plenty of coping strategies in place. 

Potential ideas include:

  • Learning about cancer. Some people feel better knowing everything they can. But have a think: do you like to know exactly what to expect or find out as you go along?
  • Asking questions. If you’re not sure about anything, ask for an explanation.
  • Talking. From a good rant to a good cry, speaking to people is better than staying silent.
  • Doing the things you used to do. It’s easy to forget about seeing friends or watching films or doing whatever you love – but the normal, everyday stuff is really important.
  • Getting creative. Write a blog, buy some paints, take a few photos, mess around with a guitar – whatever puts a smile on your face.  
  • Getting organised. Set goals and have a weekly to-do list – just don’t take on too much. 
  • Exercising. A few laps of the pool or the park can help your day seem brighter, and even doing a few stretches in bed can help. (Don’t worry if you sometimes don’t feel up to exercise, though).
  • Having a makeover. Pampering yourself on the outside can make you feel better on the inside.
  • Trying something new. Learn an instrument. Figure out how to do sudoku. Try a new sport. Give meditation a go. If you’ve got more free time and you’re feeling OK, why not make the most of it?
  • Getting your eight hours. Sleeping well is a big part of feeling well. Our section on healthy living with cancer can help if you’re struggling.
  • Having a routine. Getting up, going to bed and eating at the same time each day can help your life feel less out-of-sync. 
  • Accepting help. It can be annoying when people constantly want to help, but it can also make your life easier.
  • Treating yourself. It’s really important to cut yourself some slack and be kind to yourself. We’re talking chocolate, a curry, getting your nails done, a massage, the cinema, a game of FIFA – whatever makes you smile, basically.

Who to talk to

Finding the right person to open up to can make a real difference to your cancer treatment. Try to think about people you know who are good listeners, who won’t judge you, who’ll keep things private and who’ll be honest with you. Someone who can usually make you smile when you’re feeling down is a good person to have around too.

You could try: 

  • Your parents. You might decide they’re the best people to help you deal with your feelings. Just try to be clear when you need their support and when you’d rather be by yourself.
  • Your brothers or sisters. If you’ve got them, you might feel most comfortable chatting to brothers and sisters – and they might help your parents see what you’re going through, too.  
  • Other relatives. It can help to talk to aunts, uncles, cousins or grandparents – people who probably aren’t living with you but will have plenty of love and support to give you.
  • Your doctor, nurse or youth support coordinator. They’re not only there to talk about physical problems – they can help with the emotional stuff too.
  • Friends. Sitting down and talking through your fears and frustrations with friends can help you deal with your emotions – and help you feel more like your old self, too.
  • Partners. Boyfriends and girlfriends can give you the perfect shoulder to cry on or laugh on, depending on what kind of day you’re having. 
  • Teachers. If you get on well with one of your teachers, don’t be afraid to contact them to ask for a chat – teachers tend to be pretty good listeners.    
  • Support groups. You might prefer to talk to people you don’t know who have been through cancer themselves. Your doctors and nurses will let you know about groups near you.
  • Religious and community leaders. If you’re a member of a religious group or a youth group, you can always chat to one of the leaders there. 
  • Counsellors and psychologists. During and after treatment you’ll be able to talk to professionals who are trained to help you deal with fear, anger and whatever else you’re feeling. You can talk to them about anything, so it’s a good way to be 100% honest and to have a no-holds-barred vent.

Feeling angry?

It’s not unusual to feel seriously fed up when you have cancer. But there are unhelpful ways of dealing with anger – like taking it out on other people, or distancing yourself from family and friends, hurting yourself, or taking drugs and drinking. And there are more helpful ways to deal with it. For instance…

  • Taking some deep breaths. Concentrate on nothing but your breathing for a couple of minutes. Deep breaths in. Deep breaths out. It actually works.
  • Shouting. As loud as you can. And then shouting even louder. Screaming at the top of your lungs can be an amazing release, so find somewhere private and let rip.
  • Punching your pillow. It’s a good way to get aggression out – and a much better idea than punching a wall (or another person…)
  • Exercising. A run, walk, swim or bike ride can really clear your mind.
  • Writing down what you’re feeling. It’s not a test and no one else has to read it – so don’t edit, just vent.
  • Turning up your music. Metal. Hip-hop. Bieber. Whatever makes you feel better.
  • Talking to people. Being honest about your emotions can help your anger fade away.

Struggling to cope?

Dealing with cancer isn’t easy, and sometimes you might need support to get through it. So it’s important to know the signs of depression, and to talk to someone if you think depression might be coming into your life.

Depression can change:

  • Your mood. You might feel sad or moody most of the time or struggle to concentrate. You might feel like there’s nothing to look forward to. And you might stop enjoying the things that usually make you happy.
  • Your behaviour. Crying a lot is a common sign of depression, and so is feeling like you can’t be bothered to do anything. You might start to lack confidence in yourself, too, and become quiet and withdrawn.
  • Your body. You might eat or sleep too much, or not eat and sleep enough. And you might start getting headaches or feel sick a lot of the time.

These can be some of the signs of depression, so if you have any of these symptoms for more than a couple of weeks, have a chat with your parents, doctors or clinical nurse specialist about how you’re feeling.

It’s important not to keep depression to yourself – and there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Asking for help with a mental health problem is no different to asking for help for a physical one.

The charity Mind has more information about the signs of depression and how it can be treated. 

If depression is severe, you could find yourself experiencing suicidal thoughts. If that's how you're feeling, it's vital to get help. Tell a member of your treatment team as soon as possible, and if you're ever concerned for your safety, go to A&E or call 999. You can get in touch with the Samaritans for help 24 hours a day, every day on 116 123.

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