Reactions to a Diagnosis of Cancer (Part 2)

Dr. Rick Wirtz Health Guide
  • Last week, in an attempt to address a question that a colleague of mine posed, I wrote about just a few of the factors that may cause someone to not want to talk about their illness and their thoughts and feelings about the process of testing, diagnosis, and treatment. If you missed it, you might want to go back and take a look before you read on.

    As I pointed, not talking may be a way for the person with the disease to manage or control their own feelings. However, not talking may also be the only way that the individual believes they can protect those around them. If they do not share their fear, pain, sadness, anger, etc. then they may be able to reduce the amount of worry and concern that their family or friends feel.
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    As irrational as it may seem to some of us, individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer or other life threatening illnesses sometimes feel guilty for “putting their family through all this”, as if they had somehow chosen to get sick.

    In a related fashion, not talking may also be self protective because the person with the illness won’t have to see their own distress reflected in the eyes of those they love. It can create a very helpless feeling for the person suffering with the illness to know that there is little that they can really do to stop the worrying and pain of someone they love.

    Obviously, depression is also another major possibility that may explain the lack of talking. When I use the term depression in this way I am not referring to the expectable feelings of sadness that being diagnosed with a life threatening illness can create. In this case, I am referring to the whole collection of signs and symptoms that must be present for at least two weeks before a diagnosis is made.

    When a person is suffering from severe major depression they typically withdraw from others and communicate very minimally about everything. Their energy level is very depleted as is their motivation and ability to consider the thoughts and feelings of others. As you can see, it should be fairly easy to tell if your friend or loved one is simply refraining from talking for the reasons cited above or if they may be suffering from clinical depression.

    Next week I’ll finish up with this topic by discussing how you can address some of the reasons described in this and last week’s blog.
Published On: December 15, 2006