Experiencing loss can occur whenever there is a change to something important such as your health, friendships or ability to work. Some losses are more difficult than others. Acknowledging these losses, or grieving, can be part of the cancer experience.
Grieving is more than simple sadness. It is a natural and expected process that happens over a long period of time and can include a wide range of reactions, thoughts and feelings. Not everyone experiences grief in the same way. Grief is unique to each individual in how long it lasts, how intense it is and what it means. Even two people who have similar diagnoses and treatments may respond differently to what has happened.
How, when and what people grieve depends on many things. These can include your age or stage in life, your previous experiences with loss and grief and the amount of social support you have. Also, knowing there may be future losses can also trigger feelings of grief before the actual loss has occurred.
Loss, Grief and Lymphoma
Being diagnosed and treated for lymphoma is traumatic. In the beginning, you tend to focus on problem solving, such as arranging appointments as soon as possible, cancelling or postponing other commitments, deciding among treatment options, and getting through the treatments. As treatment continues or ends, you may realize you have feelings and reactions of grief to the losses you are experiencing.
Multiple experiences of loss and grief happen throughout the cancer experience, from diagnosis to treatment to post-treatment. The loss may be temporary or permanent, life-altering or a minor inconvenience.
Here are some examples that people with lymphoma have described:
- A part of your body or a body function, including your thinking
- Sexual changes, including sexual ability and fertility
- An ability or skill to perform certain activities (i.e., driving)
- Physical comfort due to treatment or symptoms.
- Sense of security (in your health, in your future)
- Sense of control or independence
- Self-esteem or sense of identity
- Goals, hopes or dreams
- Faith or spirituality
- Your sense of life as safe and predictable
- Routines and rhythm, or life “the way it used to be.”
- Relationships with friends, family members or co-workers
- Intimate relationships
- Loss of certain roles (i.e., you can no longer earn money for your family, or you can no longer prepare all of the family meals)
- Loss of other people with cancer you know and meet during your treatment.
- Job or job opportunities
- Financial security
- Ability to work.
Grief can be present years after treatment has ended. Examples include:
- Sensory reminders, such as taste or smell
- Routine medical appointments
- Hearing about another person who has been diagnosed with cancer or who has died from cancer
- Anniversary events (such as date of diagnosis, date of going off treatment)
- Important events with family or friends (graduations, birthdays, holidays)
- Experiencing ongoing losses because of adverse after-effects of treatment.
Unresolved grief can lead to depression and can stop you from moving forward in your life. If you feel your grief is interfering with quality of life or friends are expressing concern, consider reaching out for some support.