The Big C: A Cancer Diagnosis

A Cancer Diagnosis

It generally starts by knowing something’s not right with our bodies. It could be bad headaches, constant diarrhoea, constipation, or perhaps a lump in the breast (and we don’t mean just women). Or perhaps a cough and shortness of breath that won’t go away or a burning sensation when you go to the toilet or a tell-tale lump in a testicle. So, do you go rushing to the doctor? The most likely answer is no because human nature is like that. It can’t be serious and I’m sure it will go away soon… But eventually, hopefully, sooner rather than later, you do see a medical professional and hear the words you were dreading. You have cancer… The dreaded C word! 

Now what?

You’re sitting there listening to the doctor give you the diagnosis, who is trying at the same time to reassure you that modern medicine can do wonderful things and depending on their ‘bedside manner’ make you feel that there is hope. But are you really able to take in what they’re saying? Highly unlikely because your brain is now in shutdown, and this is normal. This can’t be happening.


According to the well-known Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of grief, the first stage is denial. This goes for any such situation, whether medical or not when faced with such an overwhelming shock. According to Kubler-Ross, it’s our way of surviving such incidents. Suddenly life makes no sense and all we can feel or rather not feel – is a kind of numbness. Where do we go from here – how and why should we go on? This is ok – it’s a normal coping mechanism and will get us through each day. It’s nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle and allows the healing process to begin. Gradually you’ll become stronger, and the denial will start to fade, but these feelings are likely to surface again as you go forward.


Why me? You’re enraged and you have a right to be. How could this be happening to you? One lady when given a diagnosis of breast cancer was quoted saying, “I felt as though I’d suddenly been put in a rowing boat and cast out into the ocean – but when I looked around me I didn’t know which direction to row in”. This is normal – where to next? You’re furious right now and feeling very lost. You can’t escape this stage of what is a natural emotional process and believe it or not, even when you’ve raged at the world and cried more tears than you knew were possible, anger is also strength and can anchor you – but there are also unhealthy expressions of anger such as:

  • Bottling it up without expressing the difficult emotions you’re feeling
  • Behaving in ways that hurt others or yourself – often those closest to you
  • Alcohol or drug abuse – as a way to escape the reality 

Rather try other ways to express your anger such as:

Talking to someone

Physical exercise

Yelling out loud


If you’re a religious person (or often even if you’re not) you’ll try bargaining with whoever you see as your spiritual influence. You’re likely to come up with “If you spare me, I’ll never do ….. again, and I’ll try and be a better human being.” Basically, offering up anything you feel will just redeem you in your Maker’s eyes if they spare you from this dreadful illness. If you truly believe there’s someone out there listening to you then there’s nothing wrong with this. Again, it’s completely normal and if it helps get you through the day then it has to be right.


Along with the sadness and fear you’re feeling, you’re probably also feeling a fair amount of anxiety, which is normal. But when you find it’s getting harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning and you keep cancelling on friends who want to see you, it may be time to face that this may be cancer-related depression.

At the time these feelings of sadness feel as though they’ll last forever and you’ll never come through the fog that is surrounding you. But it’s unlikely this is permanent and with professional help from a mental health professional, you will feel better. Don’t let the stigma of seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist stop you from seeking help. They’re trained to help you. Remember it’s just temporary and will help get you through this difficult step. There is help available so don’t be afraid to reach out. 

Whether you are helping a friend, or need help yourself, you can always call the Cipla SADAG 24-hour mental health helpline on 0800 456 789 or via WhatsApp on 076 882 2775 between 9 am – 5 pm.


Coming to terms and making peace with such a diagnosis is never going to be easy – but it is possible and achievable. It certainly doesn’t mean just accepting it and not fighting with every ounce of your strength. Some patients say that there comes a point when they realised their anger and sadness was only making them feel worse. Channelling their energy into beating cancer meant being strong and accepting the situation as their new (temporary) normal. It may not mean any more feelings of sadness, anger and confusion but they can become temporary moments rather than a persistent mood.