Top 3 Tips to Manage Cancer Grief and Loss

New Brunswick, N.J., August 1, 2023 – Cancer patients, survivors and their support systems often experience grief and loss in different forms throughout the cancer experience.  Grief after cancer diagnosis could mean for life as you knew it or plans for the future. Some losses are tangible, like losing hair, while others are more intangible, such as losing trust in our bodies. Grief and loss are natural responses to change and fundamental parts of the human experience. Gabrielle Vitaliano, LCSW, OSW-C, social worker at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, is certified in grief counselling and shares some tips for both patients and caregivers to manage grief during the cancer journey.

Wooden heart with bandaid

1. Accept the big emotions. Going through cancer can be an emotional rollercoaster, for both the individual who has cancer and those closest to them. Some of these emotions might include shock and disbelief, fear and anxiety, anger, guilt, blame, sadness and loss of control. Remember that these are common responses, and big emotions are natural reactions to difficult situations. Recognizing their existence and accepting them is important to your emotional health.

2. Seek support from professionals or those who can relate. Grief can sometimes feel lonely, even with loved ones around. Start the conversation. Share how you are feeling. Seeking support from a trusted family member or friend or turning to others who have experienced similar losses can help. Look to cancer support groups in your area or search online to connect with those who truly understand what you are going through. Additionally, oncology social workers can help patients process their grief and refer them for individual counseling if needed.

3. Practice self-care. It is important to care for yourself if you are grieving or taking care of others who are grieving. This might include eating nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, expressing your grief through art, music or poetry, deep breathing, spending time in nature or taking a warm bath. 

For additional information and resources, visit Additionally, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, together with RWJBarnabas Health, offers a wide variety of support services for cancer patients and their families. Learn about our Patient Support Services program.