Pancreatic cancer patient copes with grief by continuing her hobby, gardening

Editor’s note: Today’s blog post covers patient grief, which is a natural reaction some pancreatic cancer patients experience after receiving their diagnoses. Grief often improves with time, but some patients’ grief may last longer or develop into depression. If you’re struggling with grief or depression, contact your healthcare team immediately to get proper care and support.

A pancreatic cancer diagnosis  is life-changing, from adding new doctor visits to the calendar to changing lifestyle habits and more. With all these changes, some patients may feel grief over the loss of their normal routine, or days when they were in better health.

Grief can cause patients to experience a range of feelings, like sadness, loneliness, fear or anger.

“Sometimes these feelings are both uncomfortable and unfamiliar,” said Nicole Feingold, MA, director of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s (PanCAN) patient services. “Working through the grief reaction by utilizing your support network or healthcare team is an important self-care practice.”

Grief can also cause changes in behavior, like sleeping problems, low energy or a lack of interest in eating.

“The grief process can be complicated,” Feingold continued. “If it is severely impacting your daily life and overall well-being, it is important to seek help immediately from your healthcare team.”

The good news is that grief usually lessens over time. Here are six healthy ways for patients to cope with grief so they can start feeling better, compiled by PanCAN.

1. Talk Openly with Your Support System

Support for the pancreatic cancer patient is critical to improve quality of life and overall well-being. Having a support system of caregivers, family, friends, healthcare professionals and a patient advocate is important to address and manage the needs of the patient.

Speak honestly about your grief with your support system. Don’t feel like you must act cheerful or upbeat when that’s not how you really feel. The people in your life won’t know that something is wrong, or how to help, if you’re pretending everything’s OK.

Talking openly with your family members can help them understand what you’re feeling and how they can support you.

After openly speaking with your healthcare team, they may suggest strategies or medicines that may help you feel better. They may also recommend that you speak with a professional, like a counselor or therapist, to help you sort through your grief.

2. Let Your Support System Help

Your friends and family want to help you, and it’s OK to let them.

It never hurts to have someone join you at your doctor visits to act as a second pair of ears. And on days when running errands, cooking or handling household chores feels too demanding, know that you can ask your support system for help.

Learn how to build a support system and how to ask for help.

3. Connect with Others Who’ve “Been There”

It’s helpful to connect with other survivors who understand what you’re going through and can offer support.

To meet other survivors, consider joining a support group. Contact PanCAN Patient Services for information on support groups that meet in your area or online.

You can also connect with other survivors by joining PanCAN’s Survivor & Caregiver Network.

The Survivor & Caregiver Network is made up of volunteers throughout the country. You can get in touch with one of these volunteers to ask questions, hear about their journeys and gain inspiration.

4. Learn About Pancreatic Cancer to Feel More in Control

Learning as much as you can about pancreatic cancer can help you develop a sense of independence and control. The more you know, the more knowledgeable you will feel when talking with your healthcare team and making treatment decisions.

Keep in mind that some sources for health information are more reliable than others.

Your healthcare team or hospital should have some trustworthy resources for patients. And PanCAN Patient Services can provide you with free, informative resources reviewed by experts on the Scientific and Medical Advisory Board.

If you’re searching for information online, know that government websites (ending in “.gov”), educational websites (ending in “.edu”) and large professional organizations (ending in “.org”) are often reputable sources.

Sites ending in “.com” may also be reputable, but be sure to look at:

  • Who is writing the content
  • Whether the content is based on science vs. fake news
  • When the content was published
  • If the content is meant to inform or to sell you something

5. Try to Maintain Your Normal Routine

Cancer can change your lifestyle but try to follow your normal routine as much as possible.

Continue to do your usual hobbies and know you can adjust them as needed. For example, if you enjoy walking in the afternoons, plan a shorter route you can take on days when you feel especially busy or tired.

6. Express or Release Your Feelings

While it’s important to talk about your feelings, doing so can be difficult for some patients, notes the National Cancer Institute. But it’s important to not keep things bottled up.

You can express or release your feelings through art and forms of physical activity approved by your healthcare team. Some ideas include:

Working through grief is difficult, but over time, you will find a way to move forward. And remember, the people in your life, including your healthcare team, are there to support you.

Contact a PanCAN Patient Services Case Manager
Contact Patient Services to learn more about pancreatic cancer-related grief and for any questions about the disease and its treatment.