Diagnosis of cancer: 11 tips to face it

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, knowing what to expect and making plans for how to proceed can help make this stressful time easier.

By Mayo Clinic staff

Finding out you have cancer can be difficult. Some people say they felt anxious, fearful, or overwhelmed when they were first diagnosed. If you’re not sure what to do to cope, here are 11 ideas to help you deal with a cancer diagnosis.

Learn about your cancer diagnosis

Try to get as much basic and useful information as you can. This will help you make decisions about your care.

Write your questions and concerns. Take them with you when you see your health care provider.

You can ask:

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • Where is the cancer?
  • It has been extended?
  • Can my cancer be treated?
  • What is the probability that my cancer can be cured?
  • What other tests or procedures do I need?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • How will the treatment benefit me?
  • What can I expect during treatment?
  • What are the side effects of treatment?
  • When should I call my health care provider?
  • What can I do to prevent my cancer from coming back?
  • How likely are my children or other family members to have cancer?
  • What happens if I don’t get treatment?

Consider bringing a family member or friend to your first dates. They can help him remember what he hears.

Think about how much you want to know about your cancer. Some people want all the facts and details. This helps them be part of the decision-making process. Others want to learn the basics and leave the details and decisions to their health care providers. Think about which one works best for you. Let your health care team know what you would like.

Keep the lines of communication open

Have honest, two-way communication with loved ones, health care providers, and others. You may feel lonely if people try to protect you from bad news by not talking about it. Or you may feel alone or less supported if you try to appear strong and don’t share your feelings. If you and others show your real emotions, you can help each other.

Anticipate possible physical changes

The best time to plan for changes in your body is right after your cancer diagnosis and before you start treatment. Get ready now so you can deal with it all later.

Ask your health care provider what you can change. Medications can cause you to lose your hair. Expert advice on clothing, makeup, wigs, and hairpieces can help you feel more comfortable and attractive. Insurance often helps pay for wigs and other devices to help you adjust.

Consider joining a cancer support group. Members can provide advice that has helped them and others.

Also think about how the treatment will affect your daily life. Ask your provider if you will be able to continue with your usual routine. You may have to spend time in the hospital or have many medical appointments. If your treatment will make it difficult for you to do your daily tasks, make arrangements for this.

Plan ahead for your finances. Find out who will do the routine housework. If you have pets, ask someone to take care of them.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle can improve your energy level. Choose a healthy diet. Get plenty of rest. These tips will help you manage the stress and fatigue of cancer and its treatment.

If you can, have a consistent daily routine. Make time each day to exercise, get enough sleep, and eat.

Exercising and participating in activities you enjoy can also help. People who exercise during treatment not only cope better with side effects, but may also live longer.

Let your friends and family help you

Your friends and family can run errands, drive you to appointments, prepare meals, and help you with household chores. This can give those who care about you a way to help you through a difficult time.

Also encourage your family to accept help if needed. A cancer diagnosis affects the entire family. It also adds stress, especially to those who care for it. Accepting help with meals or chores from neighbors or friends can help your loved ones not feel burned out.

Review your goals and priorities

Find out what is really important in your life. Find time for the activities that are most important to you and give you the most meaning. Check your calendar and cancel activities that do not meet your goals.

Try to be open with your loved ones. Share your thoughts and feelings with them. Cancer affects all of your relationships. Communication can help reduce anxiety and fear that cancer can cause.

Try to keep your lifestyle

Stick to your lifestyle, but be open to changing it. Take one day at a time. It’s easy to forget to do this during stressful times. When the future is uncertain, organizing and planning can suddenly seem like too much work.

Consider how your diagnosis will affect your finances

Many unexpected financial problems can occur after a cancer diagnosis. Your treatment may require time away from work or home. Consider the costs of medications, medical devices, travel to treatment, and hospital parking fees.

Many clinics and hospitals maintain lists of resources to help you financially during and after your cancer treatment. Talk to your health care team about your options.

Questions to ask include:

  • Will I have to take time off work? If I do, what will happen to my benefits?
  • Will my friends and family need to take time off work to be with me?
  • Will my insurance pay for these treatments?
  • Will my insurance cover the cost of medications?
  • How much will I have to pay?
  • If insurance doesn’t pay for my treatment, are there programs that can help?
  • Do I qualify for disability benefits?
  • How does my diagnosis affect my life insurance?
  • Who do I call to discuss what my insurance will cover?

Talk to other people with cancer

It can be hard for people who have not had cancer to understand how you feel. It may help to talk to people who have been in your situation. Other cancer survivors can share their experiences. They can tell you what to expect during treatment.

Talk to a friend or family member who has had cancer. Or connect with other cancer survivors through support groups. Ask your health care provider about support groups in your area. You can contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society. Online message boards also bring cancer survivors together. Get started with the American Cancer Society Cancer Survivor Network.

Contact friends or neighbors who have had a serious illness. Ask them how they handled these complex issues.

Fight against stigmas

There are still some old stigmas about cancer. Your friends may wonder if your cancer is contagious. Co-workers may doubt that you are healthy enough to do your job. Some may avoid it because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. Many people will have questions and concerns.

Determine how you will treat others. In general, others will follow what you do. Remind your friends that cancer shouldn’t make them afraid to be around you.

Develop your own ways of coping with cancer

Just as everyone’s cancer treatment is different, so are the ways of coping with cancer. Ideas to try:

  • Practice ways to relax.
  • Share your feelings honestly with family, friends, a spiritual advisor, or counselor.
  • Keep a journal to help organize your thoughts.
  • When faced with a difficult decision, list the pros and cons of each option.
  • Find a source of spiritual support.
  • Take time to be alone.
  • Stay involved with work and leisure activities as much as you can.
  • Get ready to say no, this is the time to focus on you.

What helped you through the difficult times before your cancer diagnosis can help ease your worries now. This may include a close friend, a religious leader, or a favorite activity. Call on these conveniences now. Also be open to trying new ways of coping with your cancer.

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