Hearing the words, “You have cancer” is a life-changing event. If you’ve found this post, you or someone you love has recently been told they have cancer. After the initial shock, you’re probably thinking “now what?” What do you do after a cancer diagnosis?
Coping with a cancer diagnosis isn’t easy. Even in the best-case scenario, you’re looking at procedures, treatments, and thinking about how this will affect your life in the future.
Every person is different, So your needs during this journey will be different. 15 years ago I traveled this cancer journey myself. It wasn’t easy, and I’m still dealing with the after-effects today. But I did find some tips that helped me get through my most difficult days. I used these 15 recommended tips for coping with a cancer diagnosis.
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Take Time to Process a Cancer Diagnosis
The first step in coping with a cancer diagnosis is taking time to process the news. There are some big life changes coming your way! Plus the fear of the unknown is extremely overwhelming!
So give yourself time to process that you have cancer. Go for a walk, spend some time meditating, or find a quiet place to pray. Allow yourself to think and feel whatever you need to help you process it all.
Get Organized Before Fighting Cancer
The second step I found important when coping with a cancer diagnosis is to get organized. When you have cancer, there are so many parts of your life that will feel out of control. Your health needs are suddenly taking over all your time and focus. With so many doctor visits, tests, and procedures, you will probably feel like your life is running you, and not the others way around.
Getting organized is a great way to help yourself feel more in control of the situation. Getting organized will help you stay on top of the chaos (kind of)! Plus, it will allow your family and friends to be better able to help you through your cancer journey.
When I was starting my cancer journey, my husband’s awesome sister helped me get everything organized. We put together a folder with a monthly bill schedule, internet logins, insurance information, and the kids’ school information. This was a great resource to have ready before my surgery and treatments. I got organized to fight cancer with the following tips.
Consider Getting a Second Opinion
Another way to help you cope with a cancer diagnosis is by getting a second opinion. Even though you may not want to hear bad news all over again, a second opinion can be a great tool to help you get organized. Getting a second opinion can help you feel more in control of an out-of-control situation. You’re actively doing something to benefit your health.
Many cancer patients end up getting a second, and even a third, opinion on their cancer diagnosis. My first visit to the cancer world was with my primary physician. He referred me to another doctor for a scope and biopsies, who then referred me to my surgeon. Then, I went to an oncologist for treatment. All of these doctors working together on my case helped me feel less freaked out about having cancer. I was able to learn a lot about the type of cancer I had and all the effective treatments available.
Do Your Research
Doing your own research will also help you deal with a cancer diagnosis. With the internet, there is so much info readily available to you. Researching on your own can also make you feel better because you are staying involved in your health.
Even though it’s good to do your own research, you should always look for reliable resources, especially when seeking medical advice. This blog, and others, are a great resource for learning first-hand info from a cancer patient’s point of view. You can find some great tips to help you navigate your new crazy normal!
But, to get accurate medical information, I would definitely choose reputable sites like WebMD and the Mayo Clinic. You can also actively research treatments. Doing a little research about my surgery and chemo gave me answers and helped calm my anxiety.
Find a Team of Doctors You Trust
Another great tip for coping with cancer is finding a team of doctors you trust. In my opinion, this step is a non-negotiable for your cancer treatment. Your treatment and recovery will be more successful if you have confidence in those people caring for you.
Like I mentioned in the last section, I had an excellent team of doctors to work with through my cancer treatment! My surgeon and oncologist worked together for the best treatment plan for my unique situation. Plus, the nurses I worked with at the chemotherapy suite were the bomb! They took great care of me and my family each week when we visited for treatments. They also had a wonderful office staff available when I needed help scheduling appointments or filling out paperwork.
Finding a great team of medical professionals that I trusted was critical to my treatment and recovery. If you don’t feel comfortable with the first doctor you work with, it’s okay to find someone else. Your treatment will be more successful if you have many experts involved.
Understand Your Treatment Options
After you’ve found a team of doctors that you trust, it’s time to learn about all sorts of treatment options. This is a great time in your cancer diagnosis because you’re finally ready to kick cancer’s butt! But it can be really confusing, too.
For starters, there are TONS of options out there to treat cancer. Even in the 15 years since my battle, medical knowledge has exploded. Knowing there are options, and many successful ways to treat cancer is awesome! It can be very overwhelming, though.
When I first heard “I think it’s cancer” I instantly thought of chemo and radiation. Both of those options are still highly effective cancer treatments. But there are also surgeries, immunotherapies, experimental treatments, and many other options out there.
I’ve had several friends battle breast cancer, and each of their cases was different. Some had chemo, then radiation, followed by surgery. Others had a lumpectomy followed by radiation.
With the treatments, you also need to learn all you can about the side effects you might experience. Scarring, burning, hair loss, nausea, and fatigue are a few common side effects of cancer treatments. For me, I had a terrible headache the afternoon of each chemo day. So learning about cancer treatments and side effects is an important step.
Ask for Help While Dealing With a Cancer Diagnosis
Another great way to cope with a cancer diagnosis is by asking others for help. Even if your treatments and recovery are minimal, you will still need some help. Here’s how I asked for help during my cancer diagnosis.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
One of the best ways I found to get help when dealing with cancer was by asking a lot of questions. Asking questions helped me feel involved in my care. It gave me something to do. I like to have some control over my life, so asking questions gave me a little bit of that control back.
I found it very helpful to write down questions as I thought of them, and then take that list with me to doctor visits. My husband and family would also think of questions, so we would add those to the list as well. If you’ve found a doctor that you trust, they should be willing to answer any questions that come up. The nurses and staff are also a great resource when you have questions about your care.
Talk to Your Family and Friends
Your family and friends are the people who know you the best. They love you and want to help. So talking to them should come naturally when dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
Find someone you trust and can confide in, then tell them how your diagnosis is making you feel. You should feel comfortable giving them the honest truth. Especially when it comes to your mental health. It’s okay no to be okay, but it’s not okay to suffer in silence.
I was blessed to have a strong circle of family and friends around me. My husband and kids were a huge support, along with my extended family. I had tons of church friends who took my kids to school and gave me rides to chemo treatments. There were other work friends who cooked meals and brought snacks for the kids.
It wasn’t easy for me to talk to them and ask for help. I like to take care of myself, thank you very much! My family and friends were ready to help. Their help is soooooo needed when coping with a cancer diagnosis.
Reach Out to Other Cancer Survivors
One of my favorite tips for coping with a cancer diagnosis is reaching out to other cancer survivors. Yes, your family and friends love you and want to help. Your church family or work friends want to be there for you too. But chances are, most of them don’t get it.
Most of them have never dealt with a cancer diagnosis. They may have a friend or family member who had it. But it’s still not the same.
At the time of my diagnosis, I had already lost 2 grandparents to cancer. This kind of freaked me out a little! I did know a few people who had survived cancer, but none with the type I had. So, I went searching on the internet, and I found a couple of chat rooms on the American Cancer Society’s webpage.
These chat rooms were a great support to me, especially in my early days of fighting! I remember signing in for the first time, and another survivor asked me how long I had been a cancer survivor. I told her I was just diagnosed. And she typed back: The first day you’re diagnosed you become a survivor. This simple statement may not sound like much, but at the time, it meant the world to me. I actually felt hope!
I’m not sure if chatrooms even exist anymore, but there are tons of social media groups and hashtags that can help you connect with other survivors. On Facebook, some of the more popular groups are Breast Cancer Support and Curing Cancer Naturally.
Keep a Positive Outlook During a Cancer Diagnosis
It’s going to be sooooo tough, but keeping a positive outlook is crucial for your mental and physical health. You’re in the fight of your life, and you have to be ready to fight hard! Here are four of the best tips that helped me keep a positive outlook during a cancer diagnosis.
Allow Yourself to Feel Sad
One of the first emotions I felt when coping with a cancer diagnosis was sadness. I was sad about being diagnosed with cancer at 32. And I was heartbroken for my husband and 3 small kids going through it too.
It took me a while, but I finally realized that it was okay to be sad about a cancer diagnosis. It’s even okay to question God and ask “why me?” It’s totally acceptable to be angry and a little depressed about the situation. Plus, you’re adding a ton of new procedures and chemicals into your body. Surgery, chemo, radiation, along with anxiety and stress, are bound to take a toll on your body AND mind.
I would like to say that my sadness magically went away as soon as I started treatments. My prognosis was good. Surgery was successful, and chemo was started “as a precaution”. I wasn’t even supposed to lose my hair! So I should be jumping up and down and super excited, right?
WRONG! My body healing, the challenges of 3 small kids at home, and adding a new drug cocktail into my system sent my depression into a dark tailspin. I could honestly see no way out. I felt depressed and ungrateful, even with so much help. Wouldn’t it be better if they didn’t have to deal with me?
Fortunately, after talking to my family, and my doctor, I was assured that depression is a totally normal side effect of cancer. My doctor said at least 50% of his patients have been prescribed some type of antidepressant to get them through the tough times. So, to get me over the hump, I took a low-dose anti-depressant for a few months. And slowly, I finally started crawling out of that dark tailspin. Feeling sad is okay. But feeling like you’re alone or unworthy means you need to get help.
Start a Journal to Help you Cope
Along with the meals friends and family provided, a few people sent gifts to help with my cancer recovery. Before we knew I wouldn’t lose my hair, one friend sent me some funny wigs and cute headscarves. Another sent some books to read and comfy pajamas.
One of the favorite gifts I received was a journal. On the front was the serenity prayer, and every other page had a Bible verse heading. Several days a week I would finish my day by writing in it.
This journal ended up being one of the favorite gifts I received during my cancer journey. Writing in it helped me process my thoughts and emotions. It was a great outlet to have during this crazy time in my life. I still go back and read over what I was thinking. Journal writing also helped me write this blog.
You don’t need a pretty journal with Bible verses and inspirational sayings (although that can’t hurt). All you need is paper, a pen, and your thoughts. Go ahead and write them down. Even if it’s messy, and your thoughts aren’t pretty. Writing down your raw emotions will help you heal and keep a positive outlook. And your mental health is as important as your physical health when it comes to fighting cancer.
Be Open About Your Cancer Diagnosis
Another way to keep a positive outlook during your cancer diagnosis is by being open about it. Some people try to hide that they have a cancer diagnosis. But keeping it a secret may make dealing with it more difficult. It can make you feel more alone and vulnerable.
Being open about cancer doesn’t mean you have to be a completely open book. You don’t have to give all the gory details to the whole world! And you have every right to decide who gets to learn what information about you.
My point about being open is that you’re going to need friends. You’re going to need someone you trust that you can confide in. Even if that’s a counselor, Facebook group, or wherever, you need to have someone listen to you.
Find Comfort in Your Faith During a Cancer Diagnosis
The most important tip I have for anyone receiving a cancer diagnosis is to find comfort in the one true God. As a Christian, clinging to my faith was the ONLY thing that kept me going through those dark days. From the moment of hearing, “I think it’s cancer,” and on through the worst days of my cancer journey, God was there. He was with me the entire time.
The first way I found comfort in my faith was through prayer. At first, it was extremely hard. There were times I couldn’t even pray. No words would come, but God was still listening. Romans 8:26 says, “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” So if your mind is still reeling from your cancer diagnosis, it’s okay if you don’t know what to pray, or if all you can do is cry out to God. He will still hear you.
Reading the Bible also comforted me during my cancer diagnosis. Over my lifetime, I’ve had an on-again-off-again Bible reading plan. I’ll do great for a few weeks, and then slowly get out of the habit.
Before long, I added Bible reading to my daily prayer time. Some days I would use the verses from my journal to find a scripture. On other days, I would pull out an old devotional book, or borrow one from a friend, and find passages to read from it. Each morning, I still find comfort in God through my Bible reading and prayer time.
God also gives us a Christan family through our local church family. My church family was a huge comfort to me during my cancer diagnosis. So many of them helped our family by providing meals, taking the kids to school, or by simply being present when we needed them.
These 15 examples are the absolute best tips I have for coping with a cancer diagnosis. They helped me get through the most troublesome times I’ve ever had.
If you have any suggestions (or questions) about coping with a cancer diagnosis, feel free to leave a comment! And if you would like to read more posts about faith, wellness, or family topics, be sure to subscribe below.