Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Coping with your diagnosis

Learning that you or someone you love has cancer usually gives you a feeling that your world is being turned upside down. Everything in life may suddenly feel out of control. Your initial thoughts may be “How could this have happened to me?” and “How will I get through this?” A cancer diagnosis is shocking and overwhelming. However, the prognosis of certain cancers continues to improve and the chance of being cured continues to increase.

Coping with the diagnosis

Some practical things that you can do to help during this time include the following:

  • Learn as much as possible about your disease.
    At times, ignorance or a lack of understanding is your worst enemy. Arm yourself with information in order to lessen frustration. Do not hesitate to ask questions about your disease. Bring a trusted friend or family member with you to your clinic appointments. You may wish to keep a notebook with all of the medical records and information about your diagnosis. Sometimes, you can be too numb or too upset at the hospital and realize later that you forgot everything the nurse or physician said.
  • Keep a journal of your feelings about your disease and the impact on your life.
    As time goes on, you may be able to look back and see that things are improving.
  • Learn about your health benefits so that you understand what expenses will be covered by insurance.
  • Continue doing your usual, daily activities.
    You will still have grocery shopping, chores and errands to do on a daily or weekly basis. Having some of these “regular” activities will help you cope and feel more in control.
  • Take care of your family relationships.
    Although your primary focus is on your cancer, it is important to also spend time as you normally would with your family, friends and spouse. It is healthy to have fun together. Relieving stress and strengthening family relationships will allow you to cope better with your disease.
  • Create a CarePage.
    This free service from VCU Massey Cancer Center enables you to create your own Web page in less than 10 minutes and update your friends and family on your condition. They can send messages of support, too.
  • Utilize support groups in your area, as well as national support groups and their resources.
    Find out about supportive services available at the hospital to help you cope, such as the availability of social workers and counselors and/or meeting with other families. Some people find support groups helpful. Others use online chat rooms or Internet bulletin boards to obtain support. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Each family’s need for support is unique. Friends and family members will often ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Consider saying “yes” to this question and ask them to pick up your groceries, help with the laundry or housecleaning, pick up your children from their extracurricular activities or make dinner. Assigning a friend or family member something to do to help you also will help them feel like they are contributing.
  • Avoid emotionally draining situations.
    Sometimes, well-meaning friends and family members will say the worst possible thing at the time of a cancer diagnosis. They truly want to help or be supportive, but sometimes do not know how to respond. These words may hurt you or disappoint you, even though that was not the intention. You must realize that people will not know what your needs are unless you tell them. Sometimes, it is simply easier to be forthright and tell someone “I would just like you to sit quietly with me and keep me company” or “I need to spend some time alone right now.” Do not be afraid to express your needs during this time.

    Other people may want to talk to you about their experiences with cancer. They may believe that they are being helpful to you, but instead may be making your situation feel even more overwhelming. It is important for you to avoid these discussions if they are not helping you. It is healthy to be “selfish” and ask for what you need, as well as what you do not need during this time.
  • Share what you have learned.
    You will gain important knowledge and skills as you experience your illness. You could help others and their families by sharing your experiences in a support group or other setting.