An older Indian couple embrace on a couch.
Brain & Memory

Dealing with a brain tumor creates emotional issues. Here’s how to cope.


July 5, 2021

It’s normal for you —  and those around you – to have strong feelings about your brain tumor diagnosis. 

Being diagnosed with a brain tumor brings with it many emotions and fears. Some of them will be about solving practical problems. Some will be broader, more existential worries.

That’s all normal as you start to adjust to your diagnosis and plans for treatment.

Tips for dealing with all of the ups and downs after a brain tumor diagnosis. 

Realize that everyone responds differently to diagnosis and treatment. 

  • Accept that you may cope better on some days than on others. 
  • Take time to absorb what you know before you discuss it with others. 
  • It’s normal to feel some anger, stress and even depression.
  • Think about going for talk therapy (counseling). It can help you cope with the demands of an illness and treatment.
  • Talk to your care team about learning ways to reduce stress, for you and your family.
  • Speaking with your spiritual or religious leader can help. 
  • Find a local support group. 

Adjusting to daily life

You will likely need to make some changes to your daily routine and how you go about doing basic tasks during at least part of your treatment. Keep in mind these ways to build needed support into your life:

  • Say “yes” when people offer to help, such as with cooking and housework. 
  • Arrange for child care you can rely on when you need a break. 
  • Create a healthy eating plan. 
  • Talk with your health care provider about a walking or exercise program, if you’re not accustomed to physical activity. If you’re already in the habit of regular exercise, talk with your care team about whether you should change anything about your workout routine.
  • If you’ve been told not to drive, get help setting up rides. Talk with your social worker, case manager or discharge planner about transportation resources.
  • Ask your employer about cutting back your work hours if your schedule is too tiring, or changing your work location or make other adjustments to allow you to work without exhausting yourself. Or you may consider taking a leave of absence or stop working altogether. Talk to your human resources team so you know your options.

Talking with family and friends 

It may be hard to talk about your brain tumor and your treatment. But you may want to let family and friends know what you are going through. 

Let them know that there’s no one right thing to say. Assure them that showing they care is helpful. 

Expect people to respond in different ways. Some may seem angry, others may seem too upbeat, saying “everything will be fine.” Your care team can help explain the diagnosis and treatment strategy with family members if you permit that. Some people find it a relief to have a second set of ears to listen to concerns. The care team can also identify support resources that might be helpful for your loved ones.

Don’t overwhelm children. Explain what’s happening in a way that they can understand. When children sense that something is going on but it hasn’t been explained, they may blame themselves. 

Remember that some of the medicines you take may also cause emotional issues that can affect your outlook on life. For instance, steroids can cause depression and irritability. You may want to talk with your loved ones about these possible mood effects. 

Middle aged couple in soft focus sitting next to each other looking away in the distance.

With a brain tumor, the first step you take is important. Vanderbilt’s expert team works together to provide a precise diagnosis, second opinion consultations and the most effective treatment options, working with Vanderbilt experts across other disciplines. For more information, call 615-258-9236.

Learn More