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Understanding Stages of Grief- February Cancer Demystified

Many of us have friends and family members who have been diagnosed with cancer.  We all want to be able to support our loved ones during this time.  Identifying which stage of grief your loved one is in can help. 

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist and author of the book On Death and Dying, is best known for her theory of the five stages of grief. According to the author, a person goes through these five stages when facing tragedy, illness, or death.

The first step is shock.  When a person hears the words, “You have cancer,” the world can become meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense and one can literally feel numb. This feeling goes hand in hand with the second step, denial.  During this time the person can deny having cancer, feeling as if a mistake was made or a test result was wrong.  The third step is anger. This is the stage when the question, “Why me?” comes into play.  The diagnosed person may go searching for reasons the cancer diagnosis happened.  The patient can be angry with himself, or with others, or at a higher power, and especially with those who are close to them. Searching for a guarantee that all will be okay, the fourth stage is bargaining, which involves the hope that the individual can somehow undo or avoid the cause of grief.  Finally, the cancer patient can move into acceptance, a place where the patient can focus on the fight and be at peace. 

Important to note is that not everyone will go through all these stages. If they do, they might not happen in order. Some people have described a “roller coaster effect,” with lots of wild swings between stages.

For those close to a cancer patient, being aware of these five stages is beneficial. Identifying which stage your friend or family member is in can help you communicate and listen better and support them through their diagnosis and treatment.

Posted In: Cancer Demystified by Dr. Kris Gast
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