When Diagnosed

Dealing With a Cancer Diagnosis

Learning that you have cancer is a difficult experience. You may feel anxious, afraid or overwhelmed and wonder how you can cope during the days to come. Knowing what to expect and making plans for how to proceed can help make this stressful time a bit easier. Here are some suggestions on how to deal with a cancer diagnosis.

Taking care of the “physical you”

  • Many people, on hearing the word cancer, think it is a death sentence. The facts tell a different story: 60% of individuals diagnosed with cancer survive five years or more. For some cancers, the odds are even better that the disease will be cured.
  • Although nutrition is very important, certain treatments can make eating difficult. There are things you and your family can do to ensure you are receiving the appropriate nutrients.
  • Pay attention to your need for rest. Rest and sleep help the body heal.
  • Develop a personal coping strategy. Pamper yourself. Allow private time and space. Remain involved with work and leisure activities as much as you can. You can still enjoy life.
  • Don’t push yourself too hard. Take a break, relax, listen to music, swim, take a warm bath, go hiking or watch TV. Enjoy life!

Taking care of the “emotional you”

  • It’s important to work through your feelings about cancer, because how you feel can change how you look at yourself, how you view life, and what decisions you make about treatment.
  • Get support. Research shows that voicing fears and anxieties can serve to strengthen the patient emotionally and, perhaps, physically. Support groups are one way to do this. Other ways to express feelings include: writing in a journal, praying, reading, slowing down and reflecting on your life, and engaging in any artistic project.
  • Try to organize your life to decrease the stress and demands you face every day. Ask your family and friends for help with your children, with household duties and work responsibilities.
  • Remember, many people survive cancer – there is HOPE! Work with your doctors and keep your appointments. Communicate with your doctors and nurses, friends and family so they understand how to help you.
  • Don’t let cancer control everything you do. Focus on the moment and what is truly important. Although it’s not always easy, really try to “take it one day at a time.”
  • Some old stigmas associated with cancer still exist. Your friends may wonder if your cancer is contagious. Co-workers may doubt you’re healthy enough to do your job, and some may withdraw for fear of saying the wrong thing. Determine how you’ll deal with others behaviors toward you.
  • Remind friends that even if cancer has been a frightening part of your life, it shouldn’t make them afraid to be around you.
  • Don’t push yourself too hard and let friends and family help you. This will give those who care about you a sense of making a contribution at a difficult time.

Taking charge of your care

  • Being informed and educated about your cancer and treatment options is extremely important. Maintain control over your own medical treatment by doing your own research, get second or third opinions and check out alternatives. Be firm – it’s your body and your life. If you don’t like how things are going, or they are not what you expected, speak up.
  • Don’t think that any question is too “dumb” to ask or be afraid to ask the same questions again and again. Write your questions and concerns down. Take notes on what is being said or tape record your doctor or nurse’s answers. Your healthcare team wants you to be informed and understand your disease and treatment. Bringing a friend or family member to doctor’s visits and appointments can help you remember to ask questions and they can help understand the answers.
  • You may have a strong desire to read everything there is about cancer. For some, this is a good idea. For most, especially in the early days, it just contributes to more anxiety. A good strategy is to read only those things that are going to contribute to your understanding of your particular diagnosis and help you to make informed decisions.
  • Many people fear cancer treatments more than the disease itself, but every year new techniques or devices improve procedures and make treatments easier.