Questions About Cancer? 1-800-4-CANCER

Pain Control: Support for People with Cancer

  • Updated: 05/16/2014

Your Feelings and Pain

Having pain and cancer affects every part of your life. It can affect not only your body, but your thoughts and feelings as well. Whether you have a lot of pain or a little, if it's constant, you may feel like you aren't able to focus on anything else. It may keep you from doing things and seeing people that you normally do. This can be upsetting and may feel like a cycle that never seems to end.

Sometimes things that people used to take for granted aren't as easy anymore. These may include cooking, getting dressed, or just moving around. Some people can't work because of the pain or have to cut back on their hours. They may worry about money. Limits on work and everyday life may also make people less social, wanting to see others less often.

Research shows that people in pain may feel sad or anxious and may get depressed more often. At other times they may feel irritable or angry and frustrated. And they can feel lonely, even if they have others around them.

A common result of having cancer and being in pain is fear. For many, pain and fear together feel like suffering. People get upset worrying about the future. They focus their thoughts on things that may or may not happen. You may feel fear about many things, such as fear of:

  • The cancer getting worse
  • The pain being too much to handle
  • Your job or daily tasks becoming too hard to do
  • Not being able to attend special trips or events
  • Loss of control

This rollercoaster of feelings often makes people look for the meaning that cancer and pain have in their life. Some question why this could happen to them. They wonder what they did to deserve it. Others may turn to religion or explore their spirituality more, asking for guidance and strength.

"At first I wasn't able to do the things I used to do. I couldn't mow my lawn or work in my garden. It was very frustrating." - Juan

Don't lose hope.

If you have feelings like these, know that you're not alone. Many people with cancer pain have had these kinds of feelings. Having negative thoughts is normal. And some people have positive thoughts, too, finding benefits in facing cancer. But if your negative thoughts overwhelm you, don't ignore your feelings. Help is there for you if you're distressed or unsure about your future.

Finding support

There are many people who can help you. You can talk with oncology social workers, health psychologists, or other mental health experts at your hospital or clinic. Your health care team can help you find a counselor who is trained to help people with long-term illnesses. These people can help you talk about what you are going through and find answers to your concerns. They may suggest medicine that will help you feel better if you need it.

Many people say that they regain a sense of control and well-being after talking with people in their spiritual or religious community. A leader from one of these groups may be able to offer support, too. Many are trained to help people cope with illness. Also, many hospitals have a staff chaplain who can counsel people of all faiths.

You can also talk with friends or others in your community. Some join a support group. Cancer support groups are made up of people who share their feelings about coping with cancer. They can meet in person, by phone, or over the Internet. They may help you gain new insights and ideas on how to cope. To find a support group for you, talk with your doctor, nurse, or oncology social worker.

"I can't help feeling frustrated with all that's going on in my life. Between my cancer treatments and the pain, I get upset and angry. Sometimes I really need someone to talk to - someone who understands what I'm going through." - Carlos

How your pain affects your loved ones

Chronic or severe pain affects everyone who loves and takes care of you. It can be hard for family members and friends to watch someone close to them be in pain.

Like you, your loved ones may feel angry, anxious, and lonely. They may feel helpless because they can't make you feel better. They may even feel guilty that you have pain while they don't. Or they may feel loss, because your pain keeps you from doing things you like to do.

It's natural for family members and friends to have these emotions. It may help if everyone understands that these emotions exist and that no one needs to face them alone.

Let your family members know it's okay for them to get help. Like you, they can talk to a counselor or join a support group. Encourage them to ask the oncology social worker about the options that are available for them.

Also, they can read the NCI booklets for caregivers listed in For More Information.

Talking with family members

You may want to let family members and friends know how you're feeling. For some, this can be hard or awkward. Some people say that they want to avoid upsetting those closest to them. Others say that they don't want to seem negative. But open and honest communication can help everyone. Letting others know about your pain may help them understand what you are going through. They can then look for ways to help you. Your loved ones may also feel better knowing that they're helping to make you feel more comfortable.

Family problems before your cancer
Any problems your family had before you got cancer are likely to be more intense now. Or maybe your family just doesn't communicate very well. If this is the case, you can ask a social worker to set up a family meeting for you. During these meetings, the doctor can explain treatment goals and issues. And you and your family members can state your wishes for care. These meetings can also give everyone a chance to express their feelings in the open. Remember, there are many people you can turn to at this time.

For more about coping with your feelings, see the NCI brochure, Taking Time: Support for People With Cancer.