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trauma from dads cancer

Community Member

I've recently discovered that I have built up trauma from almost 7 years ago. My psychologist has helped uncover it. Around this time in 2016 my dad was terminally ill with prostate cancer that ended up migrating to his brain. Watching someone's life deteriorate so quickly once it got to his brain was difficult. I've tried writing about it to help. Does anyone have any other ideas? I thought I had dealt with the grief, which I may have. But after talking today to my therapist I had no idea there was so much trauma still there, so many vivid memories, associated with the way he died. Has anyone else experienced this?

4 Replies 4

Eagle Ray
Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi David,


Yes, I’ve experienced something similar. I feel like what happens is that at the time you are dealing with the shock of the diagnosis and then helping your loved one through it. You kind of go into survival mode. It’s very difficult to process at the time, especially when there is a rapid decline like there was with your Dad. That can be traumatic and the brain stores memories differently if we are feeling traumatised. The memories haven’t really been processed and integrated, and then years later we find we have this grief that kind of got in this stuck place.


My Dad died of a degenerative illness over a long period so there was a lot more time for both him and us to process his decline towards death. My Mum had multiple illnesses but her actual death was sudden and unexpected. My grief around her death is much more complicated and I’m still struggling with it now. While I was caring for my parents two friends suicided (2015 and 2016). I couldn’t process those events at all while being in an intense care role with my parents. It was November last year that I actually truly felt those friends’ deaths for the first time and the grief started coming out.


So I’m wondering if perhaps you’ve had a similar delay in being able to fully process what happened with your Dad. I think the feelings and emotions can be processed and integrated. It’s great you have your psychologist on board who can help you through that. Trauma relates to unprocessed experiences but those experiences can be worked through. The grief doesn’t necessarily go away so much as it changes form and becomes easier to deal with as we make sense of it and integrate it on our life’s journey.


I’m sorry your Dad went through that experience and it would have been so hard for you to witness. There are things like grief support groups which I tried myself after Mum died and it did help somewhat. Take care and all the best.

Thanks. You make a lot of sense. I'm sorry what you've been through. It makes my circumstances sort of a bit trivial.

I think when mum got cancer a few years ago, which she has now been treated for successfully, it brought back back all the trauma of dad's decline. Even though mum's result was a success. I think it's less to do with the loss and more to do with all the life and death decisions we were making at the time, which ultimately made no difference whatsoever. The loss of dignity, all that.

I think I went into survival mode with mum too and have only just started to process things.

The trauma bobs its head up in the most inconvenient times. With me it comes out in the form of panic attacks, agitation, anxiety, etc. I want to forget the bad stuff, but in amongst that were times when dad became this caring, beautiful soul which the pressures of the world had almost shut out.

Thanks it gives me hope that I can recover.

Eagle Ray
Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Dear David,


Yes, you can definitely recover. It’s a process but you will get there. And, yes, your Mum’s cancer would have brought certain worries and feelings up. I’m glad your Mum has had the good result.


I don’t think your circumstances are trivial. It’s a huge thing when a parent dies. It feels kind of monumental. I’ve had panic attacks too so I really empathise. Over time I’ve been learning to work intuitively with my body and how it responds to things. I’ve developed a kind of awareness where trauma responses are activated less, and even if they do come up I’m more in tune with my reactions and can de-escalate those responses more quickly.


 I know you do your woodworking and having an interest like that is so good for focusing the mind which has a calming effect overall. I wasn’t great this morning but then I drove to a coastal location with my telephoto lens and did bird photography, and I’m definitely in a different space now.


It’s so lovely to hear about your Dad becoming a caring, beautiful soul. I felt something similar with my Dad when he was in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s. It was a kind of grace he had despite the great loss of dignity and functioning that the disease caused. I feel it’s the warm energy of that grace  and soulfulness that sustains you through the grief and it sounds like your Dad really had those qualities. I have complex trauma relating to stuff from my parents when I was a child, but even with that I could always see their beautiful side and feel gratitude for the ways in which they did their best given their own trauma and the positive things I did get from them. I find those feelings of warmth and gratitude are a great antidote for emotional challenges like grief.


Go gently and sending you best wishes.

Thanks. It's nice to know there's a light at the end of the tunnel and it's not a train coming the other way.

Painting and varnishing tend to calm me down a bit. When dad got really sick, he let his guard down and became a bit more "human". It was kinda weird. Bit like compensation for his loss of dignity. When the cancer went to his brain, he lost his vision and joked about having one of those sticks the blind use. Even in the depths of despair, he could joke about things. Mum pointed that was how she knew him when she met him. It was just work and health problems that made him grumpy.

Anyway, I thought I had dealt with the trauma. At least I know what is causing my panic attacks now.