Has Cancer Changed Your Personality?

by Brian English

Without question, that moment when you hear the words “you have cancer,” is a life-changing event. But while it may make an unalterable shift in the course of your life, has it changed you – who you are – fundamentally? Since your diagnosis, are you a different person?

Has Cancer Changed Your Personality

Chemotherapy may have less of an effect on personality, but every WhatNexter has heard of “chemo brain” – that “my brain is mush” side effect that can make you forgetful and put you in a daze.

All of these elements can combine to make it seem outwardly that your personality has changed because of the cancer. To friends and family, you might seem to have a shorter temper. There’s a reason for that: you do.

WhatNexter MichaelS wrote that, “Lately, I am battling a bad temper which really is not me … Nothing violent. I just get angry quickly.”

Think about all the issues you’re confronting: tests, pain, discomfort, difficult treatments, an uncertain future, and a huge upheaval in your life. Of course you’re angry. You have every right to be.

In the book The Cancer Survivor’s Companion authors Dr. Frances Goodhart and Lucy Atkins note that some of the after effects of surviving cancer can be as difficult to overcome as the disease itself. Research indicates that between 25 and 40 percent of survivors experience some form of depression. The resulting mood swings and emotional issues can have a profound impact on your personality.

The Cancer Survivor's Companion Cover

“The expectation these days is that you should be raring to go the moment you are discharged, or as soon as the time between follow-up appointments is lengthened,” Goodhart writes. “Instead of telling yourself you shouldn’t feel low, allow yourself time to feel this way.”

Depression, anger, fatigue and other myriad after effects that are part of recovering from cancer can certainly have an impact on how you react to the world around you. This outward bitterness can be read by those close to you as a significant change in personality. But it’s important to realize that these changes may not be permanent. What’s more, they’re incredibly natural reactions.

“There are a lot of practical ways to tackle depression and many effective ones involve simple lifestyle changes,” says Goodhart. “These include eating well, getting active, even just going back to your old ‘grooming’ routines.”

Cancer patients themselves can be less likely to see superficial changes like temper and mood swings as true personality shifts. In fact, many WhatNexters saw positive changes in themselves as a result of their cancer experiences.

“It has changed me,” writes WhatNext member Janetspringer. “I am more outgoing than I used to be. I am also not as sensitive.”

Meanwhile, LiveWithCancer from WhatNext has an even more upbeat take on things. “Cancer made me happier,” she writes. “I wake up almost every day looking forward to the day and what it might bring. I try to smile more and fuss less.”

As with anything, it often boils down to your attitude. To some, the change is less about a change in themselves, but more about a change of their outlook. WhatNext’s angeldancer writes that cancer “made me think about what is the most important thing in my life.”

“I think my tolerance level has dropped,” she writes. “I don’t like to deal with anything that is not positive.”

Whether cancer can have a clinically proven impact on your personality is impossible to say. There are so many X factors – the type of cancer, the location of cancer, the duration of the treatment and, of course, cancer patients themselves. For better or worse, cancer may change your attitude. But whether you allow the disease to change your essential self – who you are – depends on you.

Everyone Has Gone Through Something That Has Changed Them

“I think that cancer didn’t change who I was,” writes WhatNexter BoiseB.It just made me see who I was. I sort of became more of who I was.”

What has your experience been? Has cancer changed your personality, or the personality of your loved one? 

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