Denial Affecting Cancer

Denial is something that we all live with in some degree or another.  Psychological defense mechanisms are used by us to protect us from painful emotions, and some of us may be more aware of this than others.  Humor helps people cope with stress by finding something funny or amusing to laugh about when we are stressed.  It could be jokes about hospital food, etc. and works in the place of acting out.  What good does it do to throw your pill bottles across a room?

Anyone living with cancer will lean heavily on denial to cope with this extraordinary level of stress and uncertainty about their outcome.  The defense mechanism may be helpful or harmful when you are dealing with cancer, and really depends upon the degree of your denial.  It is important to be honest at the role your denial may be playing in your thinking.

A low degree of basic denial is something we all live with.  It may be called suppression by some therapists. This is the tendency for our minds to put away or block out thoughts that are uncomfortable or stressful to think about for a short period of time.  Some will talk about a full recovery, even though they know their outcome is bleak.

The medium denial is difficult and gets in the way of completing tasks relative to your cancer, even though it doesn’t stop you from getting treatment.  It is important to identify your denial about any potential life-lim10iting cancer diagnosis and get the psychological energy to move on with life as best you can.

The highest degree is pathological denial.  People in this type of denial are those that completely deny the seriousness of cancer or the need for their medical treatment.  They cannot take in information or think through what treatment path they need to pursue.  Refusing scans, surgery and medications because you think the cancer will just go away, is the worst thing anyone can do.  Once the patient faces reality of their condition, they can begin working with the doctor in building the immune system with special juices and vitamins along with recommended medications.

In understanding your degree of denial it might help you to see how your defense mechanisms may be helping you or holding you back when you go through your journey of the cancer experience.  Many people are not even aware of their denial.  If you are diagnosed with cancer you need to talk openly with your oncology team, support group, family, friends or a therapist to help you identify any denial and to cope with the decisions you need to, going forward.

Dr Fredda Branyon