Being diagnosed with ovarian cancer can result in a broad range of emotions. This can include shock, anger, panic, and numbness, and these feelings can fluctuate throughout your cancer journey and be impacted by the phase of treatment, your physical health, coping with side effects of chemo, and how you have coped in the past with challenges.
Importantly, you may find that cancer impacts different areas of your life such as family and friendships, finances, work, which can also affect your sense of self and identity.
The intensity and persistence of emotions varies greatly from one woman to another and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to feel.
Some of the common psychosocial difficulties people with ovarian cancer report are low mood, anxiety, body dissatisfaction, problems with sexual health and intimacy, fear of cancer coming back, fatigue and problems with sleep. These difficulties may happen during your treatment or for some time after your treatment finishes. Seek professional advice if you are struggling with any of these difficulties for a persistent period of time.
Working through your feelings
It can be tempting to put on a ‘brave face,’ but it is important to try to acknowledge and give space for your strong emotions. Facing these alone can be tough, so reaching out to your healthcare team or the team at Ovarian Cancer Australia can be helpful.
It can also help to connect with trusted friends and/or family members and have supportive conversations. Also, remember that people may not respond the way you want them to, or be as supportive as you’d hope: This does not necessarily mean that they do not care. Certain friends and family members may be better equipped to support you during this time, and care can come from unexpected places. Saying something like ‘I am feeling really alone and afraid because …’ can help begin supportive conversations; whereas withdrawing from friends and family can leave them feeling unable to help. Your counsellor and healthcare team can also help you in navigating tricky conversations.
Surround yourself with people who make you laugh and fill you with joy. To me that is the essence of it. I think laughter is essential, I would suggest everyone gets a dog, undivided love 24/7, it works for me!
Spirituality can be many things to people, but it can encompass your sense of purpose and peace, and beliefs about the meaning of life. For some people, this can occur through connection with loved ones, nature, and/or a higher power. People can find their beliefs shaken during this time, and/or experience a rekindling with it.
It is normal for a cancer diagnosis to intensify and cause upheaval in your spiritual life. For some people, they find it helpful to talk to a religious leader about their experience, talk about existential themes with a trusted therapist, and/or explore ways of connecting to themselves, their beliefs, their loved ones, and the world.
Some people find activities helpful such as:
spending time in nature
appreciating art and music
reading about spiritual themes
writing down their experiences in a journal.
Where to get help and support
Talk to your GP or cancer specialist about speaking with a counsellor or psychologist. Sometimes, taking medication for a short while may help. Your hospital may provide you with access to counselling services or you may be eligible to get a rebate for sessions with a psychologist or counsellor through Medicare or private health insurance.
At Ovarian Cancer Australia, we have a team of specialised oncology counsellors and psychologists in the psychosocial support team who can provide individual telehealth support for emotional concerns associated with an ovarian cancer diagnosis. Support from the psychosocial support team at OCA is also available to partners and adult family members of those who have received an ovarian cancer diagnosis. OCA also coordinate peer support groups in addition to offering a range of resources tailored to specific areas of need. If you are interested in accessing any of these emotional support services at OCA please call the OCA Helpline on 1300 660 334 (Monday-Friday during business hours AET) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Cancer Council 13 11 20 may also be able to offer you counselling, either face to face or on the phone.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14. You may also want to call the suicide call back service on 1300 659 467. They can provide counselling sessions via phone or online (suicidecallbackservice.org.au).
The Cancer Council has a helpful and practical booklet, Emotions and cancer (www.cancer.org.au or call 13 11 20 for a free copy).