Am I in denial just emotionally healthy regarding my diagnosis?

A fellow caregiver asked...

After talking with other cancer patients, I feel like something is wrong with me. I am 55 years old and was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in August. I had a lumpectomy to remove two 1+cm tumors and 3 lymph nodes which were negative. I am HER2 negative. The think is, I have no feelings or anger or "why me". I don't worry about dying because I don't think I will for a while, and I've had a very blessed life. I feel fortunate that I didn't get lung cancer instead because I smoked for 30 years. All my friends and other cancer patients I know are in a great deal of emotional turmoil about this. Am I in denial, or just emotionally healthy?

Expert Answer

Kenneth Robbins, M.D., is a senior medical editor of Caring.com. He is board certified in psychiatry and internal medicine, has a master's in public health from the University of Michigan, and is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His current clinical practice focuses primarily on geriatrics. He has written and contributed to many articles and is frequently invited to speak on psychiatric topics, such as psychiatry and the law, depression, anxiety, dementia, and suicide risk and prevention.

I am afraid I don't know you well enough to give you a definitive answer to that question, but it sounds like it may very well be an emotionally healthy response. Fortunately, your prognosis is very good, so there is good reason for optimism. Even if your prognosis wasn't great, one could argue that since you have little control over what happens, the best strategy is to remain positive and go about living your life.

With all that said, I would also suggest you monitor your emotional condition more closely than usual. It requires you to be a scientist and keep track of how you are responding to your environment. If you find you are responding differently than you have in the past, it is important data to have. For example, if you find you are more irritable, more angry, more isolative or more sad than you had been in the past, it would suggest your emotional response to the cancer diagnosis is more severe than you had been aware. If that is the case, I would suggest you consult with a mental health professional to help you manage your emotional reaction.