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My Psychology of Cancer

Five years ago I found out I had cancer and collapsed in a heap of self-pity.

It’s a life-changing diagnosis.  My first thought was to find out how I’d gotten it.  The list was endless.  I wanted to blame something or someone.  Smoking, drinking, prescription drugs, the pot I’d smoked celebrating the start of the Millenium, rampant city street pollution, global warming, global cooling, too much phenylalanine, breathing in petrol fumes at the local garage filling my car up, macramé weaving I did in high school, my mother, my father, too much caffeine or maybe yet not enough caffeine.  Or was it simply a genetic mutation?  I needed a visible enemy, something I could focus and narrow my sights on, vilify, blast out of existence and eliminate from my life.

I was told I would never find a reason, it just was.

So after two weeks of intense depression I made the very counter-reactive decision to embrace, hug and love my cancer.  During that time I had to work out what that cancerous growth meant to me.  I meditated and visualized this bilious, sulphuric yellow, encapsulated, dangling malignant mass hanging off my left kidney, deep south of my heart, with the potential to kill me and learned how to become friends with it.

Twenty-five years ago my husband and I moved into our present home.  We painted the living areas what we thought was a beautiful shade of pale yellow.  When we finished we discovered what we thought was a light, sandy colour had turned our house into a hideous bile-coloured womb, rather like being trapped inside a renal cell carcinoma.

I spent a month living inside those four yellow walls.  During that time I was also going through intensive psychotherapy with a lot of pernicious and invasive transference issues so for me my cancer represented my many bitter and self-hurtful thought processes and self-destructive tendencies.

I smoked during my cancer.  The stress of knowing the worst had happened made me latch onto the cigarettes like a hungry baby onto its mother’s breast.  This is, I believe, not unusual.  A very good friend of ours, a highly academically intelligent man, once turned to the cancer sticks when his wife was diagnosed with a malignant breast lump.  Life is not always rational and logical.

I survived the surgery and five years on I am embracing a non-smoking, much-reduced drinking lifestyle filled with flowers, plants, trees, dogs, cats, teenage children, books, sunshine and beach walks.  Toxic thought processes have been eliminated like weeds in a petunia patch.

But the cancer survivor crown goes to one of my work colleagues, someone I knew in a previous life. After a double mastectomy and removal of a malignant growth from her brain – with secondaries growing as we speak, she remains my inspiration for post and present cancer living.  She has an indomitable spirit, is always cheerful and helpful, does not gossip, sees only the good in people, smiles most of the time, always looks on the bright side and when she is not there it feels like the sun has gone behind a cloud.

Cancer can sometimes give us a better reason to live.

My Psychology of Cancer

Sonia Neale

Sonia Neale was recently awarded the Inaugural Barbara Hocking SANE Australia Fellowship to study and research Borderline Personality Disorder overseas in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland. Her previous Psych Central blog was called Therapy Unplugged. She is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three adult children, has studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a Certificate IV in Mental Health and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree. She currently works as a peer support worker in the mental health field. Please email her on davson at

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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2010). My Psychology of Cancer. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Feb 2010
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