Defeating Denial in Cancer Caregiving


Most of us want to believe that we’re in control of our actions and their outcomes, that events aren’t happening at random or in reaction to forces beyond our sway. We usually do pretty well at it . . . until a cancer diagnosis violently yanks away that belief.

Interviews with 86 cancer family caregivers and informal conversations with dozens of other survivors and caregivers revealed the violent and mind-numbing visions that most caregivers and patients experienced at the moment of diagnosis. They described their total loss of control in terms like a car crash, an earthquake, or a shark attack.

For most, the shock of the diagnosis forced them to confront reality. For others, denial greatly complicated the caregiving challenge.

Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, or reality. Many psychologists contend that denial can be a perfectly natural and helpful defense mechanism for dealing with a traumatic change, as a stepping stone toward acceptance. . . if beliefs evolve and don’t get stuck.

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