How to get used to cancer? The road to acceptance of cancer

Every somatic disease is a difficult situation in human life. Life-threatening chronic diseases, such as cancer, usually cause disorganization of the patient's life and particularly distressing emotional experiences.


Each patient goes through the stages of accepting the cancer disease.

Patients' reactions to a diagnosis of cancer vary widely. For some, stress causes them to say nothing, others cry, and still others do not believe what they hear. It is also not uncommon for patients to faint or experience a panic attack. Each of these shock reactions is understandable in the context of the importance of the diagnosis, which for most people is a traumatic life event. There is no one right way to get used to the disease, each patient chooses his or her own way of reducing stress and adapting to the new situation.

What is cancer adaptation?

There is probably no person in the world who would not be afraid of cancer. The diagnosis is most often accompanied by fear, anger, sadness, a sense of threat, sometimes also disbelief. However, along with these feelings, there are also mechanisms aimed at adapting to the existing situation [1]. They allow you to find yourself in a new reality. We say then that we are dealing with cognitive processing of the disease, the aim of which is to reduce negative feelings and increase positive ones [1]. The course of the process of adapting to a difficult situation, such as a disease, may differ slightly in individual patients.

Adaptation to a chronic disease is the ability to cope with it and its consequences, as well as changes in the quality of life2. Some patients find it easier than others to adapt to a difficult situation. These are the people:

  • with a personality without an increased tendency to feel negative emotions, such as anger, fear, sadness - i.e. with a low level of neuroticism,
  • extroverted and conscientious,
  • mild-mannered
  • optimistic,
  • with a high level of self-esteem and effectiveness.[3]

Related Topics:

Carcinophobia (fear of cancer) - symptoms, causes and treatment

Fear while waiting for an oncological diagnosis - how to deal with it?

Stages of coping with cancer

After receiving a diagnosis confirming cancer, the patient is subjected to a series of emotions. It is worth knowing what defense mechanisms can be activated in us in connection with them. This knowledge is particularly valuable for the patient's relatives, as it allows them to understand their behavior.

  1. In the first phase of dealing with the disease, we can use denial and isolation.

When a patient hears an unfavorable diagnosis, he tries to question it, seeks help from another doctor or performs additional tests. It denies the existence of the disease, which is a temporary reaction of the body to the need to cope with a difficult situation.

  1. The second phase is anger, rebellion

During this period, sick people can usually be rude to their family or hold grudges against medical staff. There are reservations about care, demands to change the doctor. There may also be cynicism. The patient becomes conflictual, aggressive, often bursting into anger. These behaviors are usually lined with fear of the future and are not aimed at people staying with the patient, but are a manifestation of rebellion against the chronic nature of the disease and its effects. During this period, understanding of the family, avoiding conflicts, and empathy are very important.

  1. The third phase is haggling

This is the period when the sick person becomes calmer, considers various aspects of his situation. He wonders about his illness and his surroundings. He negotiates with the doctors, God, that he will act in a specific way just to give him a guarantee of recovery.

  1. Fourth phase - depression

During this period, the patient may lose relative balance. The patient closes in on himself, is very sad, thinks about his own pain, suffering, as well as about the emotions of his family. He looks for the causes of the situation and often treats illness as a punishment for mistakes made. This is the time in which the patient is dominated by the feeling of grief.

Depressive mood may appear already in the first stage of experiencing the disease. Patients often report that they then think about suicide, cry, and feel worthless.

  1. Fifth phase - acceptance

In this phase, a person comes to terms with his own fate. This acceptance is not always strong and clear, but the patient is tired of fighting. He rests a lot, he needs a lot of sleep. Often at this stage a feeling of hopelessness prevails.

Related topics: Phases of psychological crisis

Taming the cancer disease

The process of adaptation, i.e. getting used to the disease, largely depends on the attitude of the patient himself. Some people give up after diagnosis. Others, in turn, are active, focused on fighting, trying to look for various methods leading to recovery, such as proper nutrition or exercise1.

There is also a group of patients living "in parallel" with the disease. They do not only focus on health issues, but also on non-health related goals.

There are also those who hope that the disease will pass by itself and try to ignore it, negate it or downplay the symptoms. Yet another group of patients are people who approach the problem rationally and maintain a stoic attitude.1

Whether the patient manages to get used to the disease depends on his sensitivity to stress, ability to assess the situation and flexibility3.

A positive attitude is of great importance in the fight against the disease, so the best methods of adapting to the disease are those thanks to which we act actively, do not give up and believe in winning with the disease.

Find out how to talk to loved ones about your cancer.

How to deal with stress during the cancer adaptation period?

Coping with stress is a conscious reaction to external, unpleasant, aggravating events.4

We can therefore consider methods of overcoming stress as a kind of style of action. Some seek information about their illness, others avoid it, and it is similar with social support - some people strive to obtain it, others do not. Coping strategies are personal resources in illness3 that we must use to adapt to a difficult situation more easily.

How to make the best use of personal resources?

  • Let's try to regain control over life after the diagnosis, actively look for ways to improve our quality of life, let's treat the disease as a challenge.
  • Let's try not to give up on ourselves despite the disease, let's pursue our goals from before the diagnosis as far as possible. Let's strive for more achievements.
  • Let's try to stay optimistic. Optimists take active ways of coping with stress, work to overcome difficulties, and are more persistent than pessimists, and difficulties challenge them. Here, the challenge is not only the fight against the disease, but also its subsequent stages, in which changes in the patient's functioning are difficult to accept. An example of these changes may be a stoma, which will be treated by an optimist as a factor improving the quality of life.
  • Let's open ourselves to social support - good, friendly relations with others, their availability and help are valuable resources helping in the fight against the disease. Thanks to closeness, empathy and understanding, the patient has more strength to fight the disease. So let's look for support in other people, if we feel the need, let's share our emotions, doubts or fears with them
  • If the disease has prevented us from doing some activities, let's try to find other, new ones that will also give us pleasure. Let's look for new solutions.

The role of spirituality and religion in cancer acceptance

Religion and spiritual practices also play an important role in the fight against cancer for believers. For some patients, they give the opportunity to deepen their faith and focus on things important to them, help to understand the meaning of suffering, get used to the fear of death and strengthen the mechanisms of coping with stress. Prayer or a conversation with a clergyman can provide emotional support, as well as provide social support through a sense of bond with another person.


  1. Cancer is not a death sentence - it can be cured in the initial period
  2. Time is of the essence - don't delay your check-ups
  3. Treat your illness as an obstacle to overcome
  4. Continue to achieve your goals, do not give up the pleasure
  5. Keep a positive attitude in fighting the disease


  1. De Walden-Gałuszko K., Psychoonkologia w praktyce klinicznej, PZWL, Warszawa 2011
  2. Smoleń E., Jarema M, Hombek K. i in. , akceptacja i przystosowanie do choroby u pacjentów leczonych onkologicznie , Problemy Pielęgniarstwa 2018; 26 (1): 37–43 .
  3. Grzankowska I.A., Ślesińska-Sowińska Z., Zasoby osobiste a wybrane aspekty psychologicznego funkcjonowania młodzieży leczonej onkologicznie, Psychoonkologia 2016, 20 (4): 169–182
  4. Borkowski J., Radzenie sobie ze stresem a poczucie tożsamości, Elipsa, Warszawa 2001.
  5. Strelau J., Psychologia, podręcznik akademicki, GWP, Gdańsk 2002
  6. Ogińska – Bulik N., Stres zawodowy w zawodach usług społecznych, Difin, Warszawa 2006
  7. Sęk H., Wsparcie społeczne jako kategoria zasobów i wieloznaczne funkcje wsparcia w: Juczyński Z., Ogińska – Bulik (red.), zasoby osobiste i społeczne sprzyjające zdrowiu jednostki, Łódź, wyd. Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego str 17-32
  8. Antonowsky A., Rozwikłanie tajemnicy zdrowia, jak radzić sobie ze stresem i nie zachorować, Warszawa 1995, Fundacja IPN
Prezentowanych informacji o charakterze medycznym nie należy traktować jako wytycznych postępowania medycznego w stosunku do każdego pacjenta. O postępowaniu medycznym, w tym o zakresie i częstotliwości badań diagnostycznych i/lub procedur terapeutycznych decyduje lekarz indywidualnie, zgodnie ze wskazaniami medycznymi, które ustala po zapoznaniu się ze stanem pacjenta. Lekarz podejmuje decyzję w porozumieniu z pacjentem. W przypadku chęci realizacji badań nieobjętych wskazaniami lekarskimi, pacjent ma możliwość ich odpłatnego wykonania. Należy potwierdzić przy zakupie badania szczegóły do jego przygotowania.
Date added 14.02.2023
Data ostatniej aktualizacji 14.02.2023