As a cancer survivor, when might I experience loss and grief?

Cancer survivors can experience loss and grief during treatment, during recovery from treatment, and months or even years following completion of treatment for reasons such as the following:

- It can initially be a shocking experience to be diagnosed with cancer.
- During the experience of diagnosis and treatment, time and energy may be directed toward coping with the immediate crisis. This is the time when survivors much choose the health care team, learn about and decide among treatment options, and get through the treatments. This is a time when it is common to put off recognizing and dealing with losses.
- When treatment has ended, there may be time and energy to focus on emotional responses to the experience of cancer. This is a time when unexpected reactions of grief to losses can surface.

Reminders of the experience with cancer can bring up grief even years after treatment has ended. The following are examples of things that can trigger such emotions:
  •   Sensory reminders such as certain tastes or odors
  •   Medical appointments, even those that are routine
  •   Hearing about someone who has been diagnosed with cancer or who has died from cancer
  •   Anniversary events such as date of diagnosis or date of going off treatment
  •   Important events with family or friends such as weddings, graduations, birthdays, and holidays
  •   Experiencing ongoing losses because of the aftereffects of treatment

Grief is not a single event -- it occurs over time. Like waves in the ocean, grief comes and goes as you understand and appreciate various aspects of loss. The amount of time you grieve can vary. Even though survivors might experience grief and loss over time, people who fully experience grief can be happy again and may even feel stronger and more capable than before. However, if grief lasts for a long time, and you feel that you are unable to resolve your grief, talk with your healthcare team.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.