Tuesday 7th April 2020

The coronavirus outbreak has led to a huge change to the normal structure of all of our lives. 

With the country currently on lockdown, it feels like life is on pause. Of course, it is natural for us to want to have contact with others during this time as a source of comfort and support, even if this cannot be face to face. We are all in this together and so we all understand how each other are feeling to some extent. This is an extremely difficult time and we are all trying our best to cope with the understandable feelings of fear and anxiety we are all experiencing in these uncertain times. And so, as they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.

People with cancer are feeling particularly unsettled. 

Talking about cancer with your family and friends is always extremely difficult and evokes strong emotions. This is true without also experiencing the uncertainty provoked anxiety everyone is feeling as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Anxiety levels, fear and uncertainty are higher than normal already and so adding difficult discussions about cancer is likely to only deepen these emotions further. It is important to notice these feelings, without judgement. Simply by being aware of how we are feeling and understanding that these feelings are expected, understandable and justified will help manage them somewhat. Take a look at our article which gives some top tips to coping with coronavirus anxiety; remember, this is temporary, for some guidance on looking after mental wellbeing at this difficult time. 

Specific worries, such as how cancer care and treatment for yourself or your loved one will be affected during this time, will of course be on your mind. For more information on this topic see:

Talking about how we feel can be hard for all of us.

For many of us it is difficult to talk about how we feel. And when we are feeling fearful it can be even harder. There is no right way to talk about how you feel and you may struggle to find the right words to say. But the process of putting your thoughts into words can help you to understand what you are feeling and why. Holding onto your feelings internally definitely won’t help, but talking to someone might and whether that someone is a loved one or a professional is up to you. All of our emotions have somehow been affected by the current climate so don’t feel alone. Others will understand and by reaching out you are unknowingly offering support to others too, as they also realise they are not alone. 

The power of language

If you are offering support to someone affected by cancer at this difficult time, be aware of common metaphors used to discuss cancer. For example, ‘the war on cancer’, ‘on the road to recovery’ or ‘it’s a journey’. For some people, the use of these phrases are helpful as they help people to articulate their thoughts and put an impossible situation and array of emotions into verbal communication. However, try to be mindful that for others, these phrases can be upsetting and frustrating. They may feel impersonal and generic and not reflective of their own experience and difficulties. Always allow people the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings in their own way and try not to push words or phrases on them. And, if you are the person affected by cancer, don’t feel afraid to make your preference on this clear, if you have one. Everyone has good intentions and is trying their best to support you. 

Fighting Talk: How Language Can Make Us Better

Cara Hoofe, who is currently in remission from Stage 4 bowel cancer, has created a programme for Radio 4 based on the language used to discuss cancer. Her sensitive commentary guides the listener to explore their feelings about this topic and think about their preferences. To listen:

Ways to communicate in isolation

Make sure you reach out to someone each day whilst in isolation to lift your mood and remind yourself that you are not alone. Try letters, email, phone calls, video calls, or social media to communicate with others. Find the method of communication that makes you feel most comfortable, connected and supported and use it! 

I feel like I am not coping

If you ever get to the point where your feelings are overwhelming and you feel you are not coping, it is very important to get help. This is a tough time for everyone, and especially for those with the added stress of cancer. It is important that we all talk to people about how we are feeling at the moment to manage the uncertainty we all feel. But if you feel like you are not coping, please do talk to a healthcare professional who you feel comfortable with, for example your cancer nurse or GP. If this feels like too big a step right now, please talk to family and friends and ask them to help you access professional advice when you feel ready. 

And sometimes it is easier to talk to someone you are not close to.  

Please reach out to any of the following organisations if this is true for you:

Macmillan Cancer Support

Macmillan provides support to anyone living with cancer as well as their families, friends and carers.

Helpline: 0808 808 0000 (lines open every day 8am – 8pm) 

CLIC Sargent

Providing cancer support to children, young people and their families.

Helpline: 0300 330 0803 (lines open Monday – Friday 9am-5pm) 

Chat Online: Monday – Friday 10am – 4pm

Teenage Cancer Trust

Supporting young people with cancer and their families

Breast Cancer Now

Breast Cancer Care provides information and support to women affected by breast cancer.

Helpline: 0808 800 6000 (lines open Monday – Friday, 9am – 4pm, Saturday 9am – 1pm)

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

Offering support to women affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities, as well at their loved ones.

Helpline: 0808 802 8000 (check website for daily opening hours)


Providing information and support to women affected by ovarian cancer.

Helpline: 0800 008 7054 (lines open Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm)


Orchid Cancer

Supporting men affected by testicular, prostate and penile cancers.

Helpline: 0808 802 0010 (lines open Monday & Wednesday 10am – 5pm)


Tackle Prostate Cancer

A self-help organisation managed by and for men with prostate cancer and their families.

Helpline: 0800 035 5302 (lines open 9am – 9pm)


The Brain Tumour Charity

Supporting anyone affected by a brain tumour, as well as family, carers and friends.

Helpline: 0808 800 0004 (lines open Monday – Friday 9am -5pm)


Leukaemia CARE

Providing support to anyone affected by blood or lymphatic cancer and their families.

Helpline to speak to a nurse: 08088 010 444 (lines open Monday 9.30 – 4.30, Tuesday – Thursday 9.30am – 2pm, Thursday & Friday 7pm – 10pm)

Myeloma UK

Information and support for anyone living with Myeloma.

Information line: 0800 980 3332 (lines open Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm)

Mouth Cancer Foundation

Offering support and information to anyone affected by oral, head and neck cancers.

Helpline: 01924 950 950 (lines open Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm)



This article was accurate as of the 7th April 2020.