Life can be full of tragic events, but undoubtedly one of the more tragic events is being diagnosed with a life-limiting disease such as cancer. It’s difficult enough to hear such a diagnosis for oneself, but it’s often just as difficult to hear such a diagnosis for a loved one. The Five Stages of Grief are often referred to when dealing with coping methods. The stages don’t just describe what people usually go through, but can also help them understand where they are in terms of coping.
How Do The Five Stages of Grief Work?
Not everyone goes through the five stages in the same way. Some people are able to quickly accept their situation and move on. In some cases, a diagnosis might even bring relief when someone has been struggling with health symptoms and no answers. Some people are not even aware that they are cycling through the stages. Others may find themselves on one stage for a long time, or they may go back to other stages during the course of the diagnosis and ensuing illness. The important thing to understand is that not everyone deals with negative emotions in the same way.
Stages 1-3: Denial, Anger, Bargaining
Denial is almost always the first experience of anyone going through the five stages. It’s a direct reaction to something shocking. Sometimes people attempt to symbolically go on as though nothing has happened. However, once they come to accept the health diagnosis, it’s common to feel angry, especially when a cancer has a poor prognosis. Once anger sets in, it means that the first stage has been passed. Anger can be focused in many different ways. It might be anger at oneself, or at God, or at other people. Bargaining is the third stage and is sometimes called the “if only” stage. At this point, a person may begin to think in terms of guilt. They may find themselves in prayer promising to stop doing something or to lead a better life if God will help them out.
Stages 4-5: Depression and Acceptance
When people in the bargaining stage eventually give up on asking for help from the heavens, they may settle into the fourth stage, which is depression. They begin to feel emotions of sadness, fear, regret and a sense of emptiness. However, the good news is that depression means the person is very close to being able to truly deal with the situation. They’re no longer denying the truth, or angry at someone for causing the situation, or trying to get divine help out of it. This usually leads to the fifth stage of acceptance. Acceptance does not mean a person is now happy or ok with what has happened, but instead that they are ready to stand up and deal with the reality, no matter how terrible.
Positive mental and emotional health is a crucial building block toward a cancer patient’s recovery. By recognizing these five steps and learning how to overcome them day by day can make all the difference.
Use the resource links below for help with coping with a stressful diagnosis:
Tips for Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
Bracing for Bad News