You may have been expecting your diagnosis or it might have come completely out of the blue. Either way it's never easy. Here we look at ways of dealing with the emotional impact of an ovarian cancer diagnosis.
Coping with your diagnosis
You may be feeling lots of emotions ranging from sadness to anxiety, or perhaps hopelessness and fear. It’s also common to feel angry. You may be trying to understand why you got cancer. Unfortunately it’s not always possible to know why some people get cancer and this can be frustrating.
We’re 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. Some people find a diagnosis of cancer can cause low mood (depression). All these emotions are normal, particularly just after diagnosis.
Cancer Research UK has lots of information to help you cope with your diagnosis and manage your emotions.
Coping during your treatment
For many of us a variety of treatments lie ahead and sometimes in different orders: some people have surgery first, some chemotherapy. 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 (your ability to become pregnant and have children).
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. There are a lot of myths around chemotherapy. The image we have of it from TV or films can be quite false. There are different chemotherapy drugs, and we don’t all react to them in the same way.
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. Sometimes doctors forget to ask us about tiredness and some of us think it’s not worth mentioning the fact that we’re exhausted because we think it’s understandable. It may also be tempting to downplay side effects so it looks like you’re coping better than you are. If you’re unusually tired, or have other side effects, do speak to your treatment team about it as there may well be something they can do to help.
Coping after your treatment
Finishing treatment can be frightening and you may feel vulnerable: the emotional and physical side effects don’t go away overnight. It’s normal to still feel many of the same emotions that you felt when you were given the diagnosis 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, try to tell them how you feel and what you want from them. Let them know you’re the same person that you were before you had cancer.
It can take a long time to start feeling better emotionally, and you may still have bad days even after your treatment has ended. As you adjust to your diagnosis and treatment, any 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. Don’t be too proud to accept all the help you can get, and make time to look after yourself.
Worry about your cancer coming back
There is always a chance that the cancer might come back (recur) but we don’t know who will have a recurrence and who will not. The chance of recurrence will depend on a combination of things, including your tumour stage at diagnosis (how much cancer there is and how far it's spread) and your response to surgery and chemotherapy treatment.
It’s normal to feel worried about your cancer coming back. No one can take these feelings away. You might worry about every ache and pain being a sign that the cancer is back. Many people go through this and for most, time allows them to learn to put this worry to the back of their mind rather than thinking about it all the time. It takes time to get things into perspective and live life without actively worrying about the cancer returning.
Macmillan’s booklet 'Worrying about cancer coming back' [PDF] provides advice on how to cope with uncertainty.
If your anxiety about your cancer returning is getting in the way of everyday life, you may benefit from speaking to a professional about your feelings.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:
persistent bloating – not bloating that comes and goes
feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
pelvic or abdominal pain (that’s your tummy and below)
urinary symptoms (needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual)
However, other symptoms not listed above may develop. So it’s important to tell your Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS, a specially trained nurse involved in your care and treatment) or GP about anything persistent and unusual for you. Even if it’s a slight change, telling them early means you can get checked out quickly. You know your body best. Don’t be afraid to flag any concerns that you have, as it’s always better to get them checked.
Support from others with similar experiences
At the time of diagnosis, it’s important for you to have support. Friends and family can be particularly important if you have good relationships with them as they may be experiencing the same emotions as you. But things might not be straightforward. Although some relationships get stronger, some people won’t know what to say and may avoid you, which can make you feel hurt. Others may tell you to “stay positive”. This is meant well but can be very tiring and frustrating.
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. You could try:
Some people do need help from a mental health professional at this time or after treatment has finished. Counselling or therapy can help you understand how cancer fits in with other major life events and help you understand why you're feeling the way you do. There's lots of professional support out there:
Psychological support will look at how cancer has affected your life and wellbeing
Counselling gives you the opportunity to speak to someone about your fears or difficulties
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) focuses on what to do about it – how to improve your reactions to difficult situations
Psychotherapy is similar to counselling but this time the therapist will try to find out where emotions or difficulties might be coming from
Mindfulness-based therapies help you focus on the present moment
If you feel that one of these would help you, speak to your CNS or GP about how to access them.
If you feel that counselling is not necessary at this point, simply writing about how you feel for a few minutes each day has been shown to reduce psychological distress. Exercise can also help. You may not feel like exercising if you're very tired but even walking around the block can be useful.
Last reviewed: January 2021
To learn more about our review process, take a look at our information standards.