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Cancer Grief: Physical Symptoms and What to Do

11/05/2016 12:03 | Updated 11 May 2016

Cancer causes grief which has physical and emotional symptoms.

Cancer grief is the sense of loss and bereavement experienced by those affected by cancer (including family and friends). It can start with the diagnosis and does not need a death to feel earth shatteringly real.

Cancer grief can last until well after treatment, and if not addressed can become a permanent state affecting life with and beyond cancer.

Cancer grief happens because life has changed, often unexpectedly, from one moment to the next. Nothing will be the same.

You may experience any of the following physical manifestations of cancer grief:

  • Shock and stress reactions, like being on high alert, with stress easily triggered. You may feel jumpy, have a twitchy eye, tense muscles etc.
  • Your breathing may change and may become more shallow and laboured. A reduced intake of oxygen can lead to dizziness.
  • You may experience chest pain.
  • Hightened anxiety, a semi/permanent state of flight or fight, may lead to heart racing, hypersensitivity of the senses (eg noise intrusion), stomach churning and constepation, feeling sweaty.
  • You may experience tension headaches, difficulty in focussing and holding concentration, disturbed sleep.
  • Your appetite and eating habits may change, which may lead to weight gain or loss.
  • Overall you may feel more tired and need more energy than before for your daily routines.
  • All this and more can impact your immune system and leave you more vulnerable.

Being aware of these possible physical impacts of cancer grief is important. Especially when you undergo treatment, which in itself will put an enormous strain on your body.

You can help yourself by

  • cutting out unnecessary stress, responsibilities and obligations.
  • having plenty of rest.
  • keeping an eye on your diet
  • seeking the help of a herbalist or nutritionist to work on boosting your immune system.
  • speaking with someone about how you feel: a trusted friend, a counsellor or therapist.
  • spending time outside, in nature, and do some moderate exercise, like a walk.
  • identifying activities that help you stay calm and grounded (music, meditation, being quiet etc)

If you undergo treatment, then not all of this will be possible and you need to liaise with your medical team on any dietary supplements and over the counter medicine or even certain food types you take, as they may interfer with cancer treatment drugs or thin the blood, which you want to avoid, if you need an operation.

At a time when you feel you may have lost control and your body has let you down, you can do a lot to help yourself and keep a sense of being in charge.

You can find out more about the less talked about sides of life with cancer (during and well after treatment) on my blog BetweenSelfAndDoubt.com

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