Cancer with counselling

What’s in a name? The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BC) named the disease ‘carcinoma’, after the Greek word for crab. The name was changed to ‘cancer’ after the Latin word for crab by the Roman physician, Celsus (28-50 BC). To hear the word causes different reactions between people and we all have our own unique stories, impressions and ideas about cancer.

Counselling may help when there has been a personal cancer diagnosis or that of a partner, family member or friend. Treatment options may have been exhausted and there is a need to talk things through with someone, like a counsellor, but who is independent from the medical team who treated you and is able to be objective with you, because you aren’t known to them and are neither a friend nor relative. The time to talk differs for everyone and only you know when the time is right to approach a counsellor for support.

There is a great deal to come to terms with and process for anyone experiencing cancer, be it directly or indirectly: from symptoms to diagnosis, attending tests and procedures, the endless waiting, learning how to cope and how and when to tell others about the cancer. Often concluding in a total re-assessment of self and re-evaluation of one’s life, belief system and values.

It is quite normal to feel anxious, angry, guilty, sad, depressed and feeling that one’s body has turned against you. Cancer is often about loss: health, strength, fertility, a body part. These losses can lead to an overall loss of identity questioning “who am I?". Feelings of limited or no control, security or autonomy over one’s own life anymore are common. People can feel alienated from the world of ‘well’ people, feeling stigmatised and isolated. Having to be cared for can resurrect childhood memories of when we were parented and under parents’ control.

Clients can regress to a child-like status, which may be uncomfortable and resented. Having been the focus of attention of the medical profession and hospital, upon leaving this regime, clients can feel abandoned, lost and cast adrift and need to seek a new direction in life.

Cancer makes us focus on time and time becomes precious. There can be an urgency to address something in one’s past, which has been avoided or distracted from. New phobias and anxieties may increase in the face of diagnosis and treatment. Largely clients need to re-assess their life, relationships and self. Counselling may help to regain hope and to learn to self-regulate oneself with all that life has to throw at us.

“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” - Susan Sontag.

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