Cancer diagnosis: 11 tips for coping immediately after the announcement

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, knowing what to expect and planning ahead can help you get through this stressful time.

Learning that you have cancer is a difficult experience. After your cancer diagnosis, you may feel anxious, scared or overwhelmed and wonder how you will cope with the days ahead.

Here are 11 suggestions for coping with a cancer diagnosis.

1 Get as much information as possible about your cancer

Try to get as much basic and useful information about your cancer diagnosis as you need to make decisions about your care.

Write down your questions and consider asking your doctor:

– What type of cancer do I have?
– Where is the cancer?
– Has it spread?
– Can my cancer be treated?
– What are the chances of curing my cancer?
– What other tests or procedures do I need?
– What are my treatment options?
– How will the treatment benefit me?
– What can I expect during the treatment?
– What are the side effects of the treatment?
– What can I do to prevent my cancer from coming back?
– How likely are my children or other family members to get cancer?

Consider bringing a family member or friend with you to your first doctor’s appointments to help you remember what you hear.
You can also think about what you want to know about your cancer. Some people want to know all the facts and details. So they can be very involved in the decision-making process. Others prefer to learn the basics and leave the details and decisions to their doctor. Consider which approach works best for you. Let your healthcare team know what you prefer.

2 Keep the lines of communication open

Maintain honest and reciprocal communication with loved ones, doctors and others after your cancer diagnosis. You may feel particularly isolated if people try to shield you from bad news. If you and other people express your emotions honestly, you can all strengthen each other.

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3 Anticipate possible physical changes

Now, after your cancer has been diagnosed and before you start treatment, you need to plan for changes. Prepare now so you can better deal with the situation later. Ask your doctor what changes you should anticipate. If medication is causing hair loss, expert image advice on clothing, makeup, wigs and hairpieces can help you feel more comfortable.

Also think about the impact of the treatment on your daily activities. Ask your doctor if you can expect to carry on with your usual activities. You may need to spend time in the hospital or have frequent doctor’s appointments. If your treatment requires time off from your normal duties, make arrangements for this.

4 Maintain a healthy lifestyle

It can improve your energy level. Choose a healthy diet with a variety of foods and get enough rest to help you deal with the stress and fatigue associated with cancer and its treatment. Exercising and participating in enjoyable activities can also help. Recent data suggests that people who exercise while on treatment do better. But can also live longer and reduce the risk of relapse.

5 Let your friends and family help you

Often friends and family can run errands, provide transportation, prepare meals, and help with household chores. Learn to accept their help. Accepting help makes those who care about you feel like you are contributing at a difficult time. Also encourage your family to accept help if it is needed. A cancer diagnosis affects the whole family and adds stress, especially for primary caregivers. Accepting help with meals or household chores from neighbors or friends can go a long way in preventing caregiver burnout.

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6 Review your goals and priorities

Determine what is really important in your life. Find time for the activities that are most important to you and that give you the most meaning. If necessary, try to find a new openness with your loved ones. Share your thoughts and feelings with them. Cancer affects all of your relationships. Communication can help reduce the anxiety and fear that cancer can cause.

7 Try to maintain your normal lifestyle

Maintain your normal lifestyle. But be open to modifying it if necessary. Take one day at a time. It’s easy to overlook this simple strategy in times of stress. When the future is uncertain, organizing and planning can suddenly feel overwhelming.

8 Consider the impact of your diagnosis on your finances

A cancer diagnosis can lead to many unexpected financial burdens. Your treatment may require time off work or a prolonged absence from home. P

9 Talking to other people with cancer

Sometimes it feels like people who haven’t been diagnosed with cancer can’t fully understand how you feel. It can be helpful to talk to people who have been in your situation. Other cancer survivors can share their experience and give you insight into what to expect during treatment.

You may have a friend or family member who has had cancer. You can also connect with other cancer survivors through patient associations. Ask your doctor if there is such an association in your area.

10 Fighting the stigma

Some old stigmas associated with cancer still exist. Your friends may wonder if your cancer is contagious. Your colleagues may doubt that you are healthy enough to do your job. Some may withdraw for fear of saying the wrong thing. Many people will have questions and concerns.
Determine how you will handle the behaviors of others towards you. Overall, others will follow your advice. Remind your friends that while cancer has been a scary part of your life, they shouldn’t be scared of being around you.

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11 Develop your own coping strategy

Just as each person’s cancer treatment is individualized, so is the coping strategy. Ideas to try:

– Practice relaxation techniques.
– Honestly share your feelings with family, friends, therapist
– Keep a journal to help you organize your thoughts.
– When faced with a difficult decision, list the pros and cons of each choice.
– Find a source of psychological or spiritual support.
– Set aside time to be alone.
– Stay involved in work and play as much as possible.

What comforted you in difficult times before your cancer diagnosis will probably help ease your worries now. Whether it’s a close friend, a religious person, or a favorite activity that recharges you. Turn to these comforts now, but also be open to trying new coping strategies.

Useful sources and links


RockCL, et al. Nutrition and physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2012;62:242.

Ballard-Barbash R, et al. Physical activity, biomarkers and disease outcomes in cancer survivors: A systematic review. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2012;104:815.



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