The emotional impact

Sunday 1 June, 2014

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On this page: Taking control | Support from loved ones | Peer support | Professional support | When you don't want to talk about it

Infertility can be very hard to come to terms with, particularly after an experience of cancer. You may experience a range of emotions, including:

  • anger
  • fear
  • anxiety or uncertainty about the future
  • hope
  • feeling overloaded or overwhelmed
  • frustration
  • annoyance
  • a sense of peace with life’s new direction
  • grief and loss.

Experiencing cancer and infertility can make you feel very alone. You may worry about burdening a partner, friends and family with your concerns.

You might have strong feelings just when you think you should be ‘getting on with your life’. Many cancer survivors say they didn’t get a chance to think about their fertility until treatment was over, then their emotions hit hard.

See information about the impact on partner relationships and sexuality.

"I’m still very concerned about my fertility. But I feel like now I actually have more control because I know I’m doing something about it. I’m not just waiting around." - Stephen

Taking control

For many people, the most upsetting aspect of cancer and infertility is how it changes their plans and dreams. If the future is unknown, you may feel like your life is on hold or out of control. Finding support may help you feel you are taking a positive step forward and taking control of your situation. Helpful ways to deal with feelings of uncertainty or chaos include:

  • knowing the options available to you now and in the future
  • keeping a journal of what seems most important to you
  • going through a series of steps to inform and record your decision making
  • involving your partner (if you have one) in decision making
  • seeking peer and/or professional support
  • finding constructive ways to manage your own feelings (e.g. through activities such as art or exercise).

Support from loved ones

You may feel there is no one close enough to you who can really understand what you are going through. Partners, friends and family may not know how to communicate with you in the way that makes you feel supported. Some people may withdraw because they feel helpless and do not know what to do or say.

If friends or family can’t offer the support you need, or you feel you are burdening them, it may be a good idea to seek peer support or professional help (see below).

Dismissive comments people may say
  • Be positive.
  • You are lucky to be alive.
  • Aren’t you lucky you don’t have kids to worry about?
  • You can mind our kids.
  • Be grateful for what you already have.
  • Don’t think about it.

These types of comments may make you feel like no one cares about your feelings or understands what you are going through. However, people usually have good intentions, and they are probably struggling to know how to respond.

Telling loved ones what you need most and asking for support can be an effective communication strategy. It might help to remind people that you aren’t asking for advice or solutions, you simply want someone to listen to you express your feelings.

You will probably find that even if certain people can’t deal with your concerns, there will be others you can lean on. Some people say that their loved ones rose to the occasion in ways they never imagined.

Peer support

Talking to people who have been in a similar situation to you may make you feel less isolated and provide you with practical strategies to help you move forward.

You can access peer support by:

  • joining a cancer- or fertility-related support group
  • calling Cancer Council 13 11 20
  • asking your health care team if you can be put in touch with a patient in a similar situation.

Professional support

Some people find it useful to talk to someone who is not their partner, family member or friend. You can get professional counselling alone or go with a partner.

You may choose to speak to a psychologist, social worker, nurse, fertility counsellor or your doctor. This person can talk to you about issues such as:

  • making difficult decisions
  • the impact of cancer and infertility on your relationships
  • expressing your feelings to your loved ones
  • anxiety and stress
  • moral or ethical concerns
  • coping with successful or unsuccessful fertility treatments
  • your emotions about other people’s pregnancies, births and babies
  • ways you can manage your own feelings. 
"I am glad my doctor helped me work through the emotions of what was my top priority. I finally felt that overcoming cancer and getting on with my life were most important and everything else came after that." - Thuy 

When you don’t want to talk about it

There may be times when you may not want to talk about fertility after cancer. This may be because you think you don’t have the words to describe how you feel, you are afraid of breaking down, or you find it too overwhelming or confronting.

Withdrawing from others might give you time out to make sense of what’s going on. If you are a private person, this might be the best way for you to process your feelings. Exploring your feelings by writing in a journal or expressing yourself creatively can particularly helpful if you find it difficult to talk to others.

You may want to avoid being a burden to others or fear appearing as if you are not coping. Or, you may be specifically avoiding friends or family who are pregnant or have children, because it brings up painful emotions.

Over time and with the right support, you may come to terms with what you are going through and be able to open up to others. The pain of seeing your friends or family with children will lessen.

"I used to cry my eyes out every time I saw a friend with a new baby or I heard someone in my family was pregnant. Now I genuinely feel joy and happiness for them as I celebrate their news." - Grace 

Reviewers: Prof Martha Hickey, Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Melbourne, VIC; Franca Agresta, Clinical Research Manager, Melbourne IVF, VIC; Alyssa White, National Publications Project Manager, Cancer Council NSW; and Georgia Mills, Cancer Survivor.
Updated: 01 Jun, 2014