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When cancer hits home—Dealing with a diagnosis
Let it sink in
Turn to others
Hit the books


Keep a journal
Keep a journal

Writing down the emotions and concerns triggered by your cancer diagnosis may make it easier for you to handle upcoming treatment. A study by researchers at North Dakota State University in Fargo showed that patients who wrote about a stressful situation for 20 minutes on three consecutive days experienced a reduction in symptoms. Although the study was confined to those with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis, evidence shows that venting negative emotions can help you gain a realistic perspective and cope better with difficult situations.

It’s amazing how one phone call can change your life—especially if it’s your doctor calling to tell you that you have cancer. Upon hearing a phrase such as “The tumor is malignant,” your first reaction may be shock or denial. Or you might rush your doctor to come up with an immediate plan of action. However, in many cases there is no need to speed into intensive drug therapy or radical surgery. More often, you will have time to cope with a cancer diagnosis and make careful decisions. Keep in mind that if a cancer is caught early, the chances for a complete recovery are excellent.

If you are diagnosed with cancer, rest assured that your medical team will work with you to develop an appropriate treatment plan without delay. But in the meantime, you need to absorb the information thoroughly. Talk with doctors, research your options, tell your loved ones and deal with the news in whatever way feels right to you.

Let it sink in

After you hang up the phone or leave the doctor’s office, what’s your next step? Before you talk to anyone else, take a moment for yourself. Sit down. Take a few deep breaths and allow yourself to understand what the doctor told you. Let his or her words repeat in your head a few times. You may need to say them out loud. It is okay to cry, to be angry or to be scared. You’ll probably experience several emotions. Allow yourself to feel as much as you can. Blocking out the pain or confusion won’t help you accept the fact you have cancer. It will only postpone your readiness for treatment.

Turn to others

Once you are ready to talk to others, share the diagnosis with whomever you feel comfortable. You don’t have to tell everyone right away. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m not ready to talk about it.” That way you don’t risk hurting anyone’s feelings and your privacy will be respected. Be prepared to handle other people’s reactions. They may cry, become overly concerned, awkward or untactful. Until they know how you are coping with the news, they may not know how to act themselves. Try not to let their reactions or stories scare you or steer you in a direction that differs from your doctor’s instructions. Let your loved ones know what they might do to help and assure them you’re still the same person you’ve always been.

Hit the books

You may find it helpful to do some research. Schedule a time to talk with your doctor about the diagnosis. He or she may refer you to a counselor who can address your concerns. Libraries can provide reliable sources of information as well. Feel free to ask your doctor about your research findings. He or she can answer questions about a new treatment, surgical procedure or drug therapy.