Cancer Chronic Illness
8 Difficult Emotional Responses to a Cancer Diagnosis
January 30, 2019
Man and woman holding hands on a table top - Emotional Responses to a Cancer Diagnosis

These 8 emotional responses to a cancer diagnosis can be quite confusing and hurtful for loved ones who are trying to support someone recently diagnosed.

I get a lot of questions from people who have a loved one recently diagnosed with cancer. They often want to know what my alternative cancer treatment protocol looked like or how to implement a therapeutic ketogenic diet and lifestyle to treat cancer.

These are obvious, you probably expect that I get these questions. But the other big question I get from these folks is, how do I support my loved one through their cancer diagnosis?

The first time I got this question I was surprised. But then I thought back about my own emotional reaction to my diagnosis. As you can imagine, a diagnosis of this magnitude comes with every emotion and shade of emotion humans are capable of having not to mention emotional trauma.

Some of these emotional responses might manifest as pushing people away and it may help you to understand some of what your loved one may be feeling. Here are 8 difficult emotional responses to a cancer diagnosis you might run into.


Dealing with a cancer diagnosis can leave many patients feeling very overwhelmed. Worrying about their future and how cancer will affect their loved ones coupled with information overload from their health care team can often leave people feeling like they’ve totally lost control.

Disbelief and Denial

Some people may find themselves in denial following a cancer diagnosis, burying their heads in the sand hoping it’ll go away. No one wants to deal with this crap. Can you blame us?

Shock and Anger

Any major health diagnosis, especially something as big as cancer can be a shock. Patients feel out of control and victimized, so they’re angry. Sometimes they’re angry at themselves or the lack of treatment options. There are a lot of reasons to be angry. The limited treatment options and side-effects can make a patient feel trapped with little choice or control.


Cancer is portrayed in the media as a death sentence. You think you know a lot about cancer and how it’s treated…until you’re diagnosed. Then you realize you know nothing except that people who have cancer die. That’s some scary shit. Not to mention the treatments themselves are scary.

Stress and Anxiety

A cancer diagnosis takes over your life — professional, social, familial, financial. There is a ton to learn about the type of cancer you’ve been diagnosed with, the treatment options, and the potential side-effects. You have a million appointments and you have to deal with lots of paperwork and insurance. It’s just a lot.

Sadness and Depression

Depending on the treatment protocol your loved one chooses, the treatment can be tough and they may feel sad that they’re no longer able to do the things they love because of the side effects. Even after they are declared cancer-free, they can feel sad about what they missed out on during treatment.


There are a lot of things to feel guilty about when you have cancer. Some feel guilty about being a burden to you, others feel guilty about not being able to live up to commitments or be there for their children or other loved ones. Some are guilty about how they’ve treated their bodies leading up to their diagnosis, and some experience survivors guilt when friends from treatment pass away.


This one can be the most puzzling for those trying to support their loved one. But it makes sense, you don’t truly understand what your loved one is going through and you are likely dealing with powerful emotional responses yourself.

The best advice I can give you is to hang in there and take care of you. You can’t support them if you aren’t taking care of yourself first. So make sure you put your oxygen mask on before theirs!

Hopefully, this walkthrough of 8 difficult emotional responses to a cancer diagnosis will help you understand what your loved one is dealing with.

You or your loved one may find my Metabolic Theory of Cancer reading list helpful.


About author

Heather Cooan

Heather is a marketing executive turned nutrition consultant and educator. Heather advocates for informed consent, bodily autonomy, and healthcare authorship. She speaks and writes on nutrition and lifestyle design interventions for health recovery. Heather successfully recovered her health from vulvar cancer, Hashimoto's, and lichen sclerosus. She reversed estrogen dominance, insulin resistance, arteriosclerosis, and fatty liver utilizing a food-as-medicine and integrated clinical treatment approach. Heather is a certified Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner and Nutrition Therapy Practitioner.

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