How do you deal with a cancer diagnosis?

Published: 19 Feb 2019

A cancer diagnosis isn’t something that breezes past you – some people say that time stands still while they process the enormity of the situation.  Fear, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed are just some of the emotions you may experience following a diagnosis.

We’ve compiled a list of useful suggestions that may help you through the first few weeks as you come to terms with your diagnosis, along with some ways to plan ahead.

Get the Facts

Although you may feel like shutting the curtains and climbing into bed, it’s worth doing your research to find out useful information about your diagnosis that will help you make important decisions for your treatment. Writing a list of questions to go over with your cancer care team is a good place to start. You may want to know more about your prognosis, a detailed breakdown of your treatment options, what the side effects of medication may be and other tests or procedures that might be required. If you’re not feeling up to the job of researching it, ask friends and family to help.  

It’s also worth deciding how much you actually want to know.  Some people want the minute details while others would prefer to trust their doctors and leave the decisions to them. Take someone to your first few appointments to support you and help you remember what’s been discussed. If you are attending appointments alone, make notes or make an audio recording of the session to review at home.  

Keep talking

Don’t be afraid to talk about what you’re going through with your family, friends and medical team. It’s not uncommon for people to avoid opening-up or telling loved ones about their health after diagnosis. Try to keep the lines of communication open to stop you feeling isolated – you will need their support.

Physical changes 

Before you begin your treatment, talk to your doctor about the possible physical changes that might occur with treatment. If your treatment or medication is known to cause hair loss, you may want to look into complementary therapies in advance, such as Penguin cold cap therapy which can help to reduce hair loss, or consider purchasing a wig that matches your hair, which may make you feel more comfortable with how you look. Check with your insurance company to see what your covered for. 


Maintaining a routine

Talk to your medical team about how easy it will be to manage your daily life and activities during treatment. Going to work, doing the school run and walking the dog may not be as easy, particularly if you have to spend time in the hospital or have regular medical appointments. For example, your treatment may require that you take a leave of absence from work and you will need to make arrangements for this in advance. Don’t knock yourself out trying to maintain your normal lifestyle, instead look at how you can modify things and take one day at a time. 

Keep healthy and fit

Research suggests that people who stay active during treatment have better outcomes. Although not always easy, good diet and gentle exercise will boost your energy levels, help you to stave off stress and fatigue and improve your outlook.

Don’t be too proud

Let friends and family run errands, pick the kids up, take you to appointments, help with pets, cook you a meal and help with chores that might take a physical toll on your body.  Cancer doesn’t just affect the person that has it, the ripple effect can be felt across the entire family – accepting support from friends and loved ones will not only help you, in many cases it will help them.  It will enable them to feel like they’re doing something useful, as well as taking the pressure off your main caregiver.  

Trim the dead wood

Review your priorities so you only need to find time for the things and people that mean the most to you.  

Balancing the books

If you need to take time away from work or home, you’ll need to consider the additional costs of treatment medication, medical devices, traveling for treatment and even the cost of hospital parking. Many clinics and hospitals keep lists of resources to help you financially during and after your cancer treatment. Talk with your health care team about your options and check out what benefits you’re entitled to. You can find support online regarding charities that assist low income families where a member of the family is going through cancer treatment. 

Make new friends

Online and offline support groups are a great way to meet other people who are going through the same thing as you. You may feel that your loved ones don’t understand what you’re going through if they haven’t been through it themselves.  Other cancer survivors will be able to share their stories, successes and failures, which will give you an outlet for medical problems, worries and feelings with people who completely understand.  

Join the Chemotherapy Support Group on Facebook where thousands of members are already offering each other advice and support.  People going through treatment often form close ties with their fellow patients and support team, who will all become part of your ‘cancer family’.

Develop coping strategies

Everyone’s treatment is different and so too are the effects. You may find it helpful to develop strategies to help you relax and get through each day. Relaxing treatments, meditation, restorative yoga, talking to a counsellor are just a few things that might help you to stay balanced while you’re going through difficult times. On a practical level, making a list of people that can help out (walking the dog, taking the kids to school, taking you to appointments etc) and filling the freezer with simple, easy meals ahead of time will all help you and your caregivers to cope while you’re having treatment.