The Five Stages of Cancer Grief

By: Brandy (Korman) Haslam


During our Pink Ladies meeting last week, we had the opportunity to meet Lucy Zeigler, PRMA patient and certified professional counselor specializing in grief therapy.

Lucy went over some really great information for those going through a breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery. One of the things she discussed was the 5 stages of cancer grief—which really can be applied to grief of any kind.

The five commonly recognized stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Lucy says to keep in mind that not everyone experiences all of these stages or goes through them in a particular order. Even after someone has gone through all the stages she says, a person can still revert back to a previous stage.

The first stage—denial, is really a coping mechanism to help a person survive news that is difficult to handle. During this stage, Lucy mentioned that most people are overwhelmed with feelings of shock and are unable to grasp everything that just happened. Although some denial can be healthy, it may prevent someone from dealing effectively with issues that are important.

Anger is a stage that almost everyone goes through when dealing with grief. Questions like ‘why did this happen to me?’ or ‘what did I do to deserve this?’ are common. Surrounding yourself with friends and family and talking with others going through a similar situation can be helpful when overcoming anger.

Bargaining is also a stage that a lot of people face when dealing with grief. Thoughts of ‘if only I’d done this’ are common. Many people may try to bargain to prevent future losses by changing their lifestyle or even promising God that they will change their behavior in exchange for good health.

The fourth stage is sadness. Most people facing a cancer diagnosis are understandably saddened by the news which affects everything from mood, energy levels and sleep and eating habits. Seeking professional counseling during the grieving process may be beneficial for some people.

The last stage is acceptance of the cancer diagnosis. It doesn’t mean that a person has completely let go of their grief, but that they’ve accepted cancer as a part of their life. Although this is the last stage of cancer grief, Lucy says that a person can still revert back to other stages or skip some stages in the grieving process all together.

The final point that was made during our meeting was that even though all of our journeys are similar, no two are the same. We are all unique and have a voice in how our cancer diagnosis has affected our lives. Embrace what has been put in front of you—a path that you did not choose, but one that was chosen for you. You will get through this!


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  • Michelle

    i thought this information was very helpful. my husband has just been diagnosed with bladder cancer, many scary things a head. it was comforting to hear-You will get through this!!!!!! michelle

  • PRMA Plastic Surgery

    So glad you found this information helpful Michelle! Sending well wishes to you and your husband.

  • Tonia

    My mom had a melanoma removed from her leg 3 yrs.ago. well, about a yr. Later it got into the lymph nodes in groin, dr. Removed these, this October her pet Scan revealed it had metastasized pretty much to all organs. My mother is 79, she is a kidney transplant patient & has had her kidney for 21 yrs., we were afraid to try any treatment, afraid it would cause her to lose her kidney therefore shortening her life instead of prolonging it. The cancer is all in her lungs, she has hard time breathing even just going to the bathroom is a chore, she gets winded. I think she is in denial right now & shock. I, along with all family members & church pray constantly for her. I feel so helpless, sad, angry, depressed & any thing else u can think of myself, bc I want to help her so bad. I love my mother SOOOO very much, she is just an angel. It’s killing me. She is at home under hospice care, my dad & i have been taking care of her around the clock. She barely speaks, she’s just not herself. I think she is in denial stage. She has smiled 2 times in a week. I try to keep upbeat & lean on God, I never cry in front of her. We don’t know how much time she has left & none of us want to know. If there is any out there going thru something similar, sure would be helpful to talk. I pray God gives us all the strength we need to make it thru this devastating time. P.s. my dad has cancer too & has 5 more radiation treatments left on his vocal cords. He says he doesn’t want to live if something happens to mom, they have been married 61 yrs. Please pray for our family, for my mom & dad. Would love to talk to someone! !!!! Tonia

    • Becky

      Hi Tonia,
      I was just reading the 5 stages of cancer grief above and saw you comment.
      I do not know how recent your post is but I can relate as my family just received
      news my mother has 3 months. My prayers are with u & your family also. Becky 7/18/17

      • Monica W

        Hello I too was just recently diagnosed with a rare stage 2 sarcoma of my left breast on 8/11/2017,I had a double mastectomy on 11/9/2017 I still have the drain tubes in my right breast is badly swollen with fluid and is still very painful. This Wednesday I start radiation treatment then chemotherapy and I’m scared. I had elected for reconstructive surgery before the treatment begins but the pain is so bad that I’m rethinking it.I don’t really have anyone to talk to about all this and it is beginning to depress me but I keep a smile on my face for my kids. I don’t know what to do anymore

        • PRMA

          Thanks so much for reaching out sweet Monica!  We hate to hear you are experiencing all of this and you feel alone.  We would be more than happy to connect you with our Pink Ladies Patient Advocate team!  There are also many Facebook groups specific to breast cancer and reconstruction.  Please let us know if you would like us to put you in touch!

  • PRMA Plastic Surgery

    Thank you so much for sharing Tonia! We are sending love and prayers to your sweet family!

  • Derinda

    I was told that I have a mass in my right lung which was causing my chest pain that I went into the ER for I still must be in denial because I have yet to follow up with the doctor please keep me in your prayers I have an appointment tomorrow at 1:30

    • PRMA

      Sending well wishes your way Derinda!

  • Joni Miller

    Are there support groups for breast cancer in Omaha?

PRMA Plastic Surgery