Coping With Your Cancer Diagnosis

"You have cancer."

These three words can make you feel as though you've been hit by a fast-moving train and then strapped into an out-of-control roller coaster. You probably wonder how you're going to cope with the stress, your fears, treatment side effects, and managing work, family, and other responsibilities while ill.

As difficult as a cancer diagnosis is, you can cope with it. Here are a few of the things you should do first after learning you have cancer.

Become educated. Information is empowering. Learn all you can about your illness so you can be an active partner in your cancer care. This is one of the most important steps you can take.

Ask your physicians lots of questions. Learn about your type of cancer and the treatment options. Separate fact from fiction. There's a lot of hype and misleading information on the Internet. Make sure you use trusted, reliable sources for your research. Understand the possible side effects of treatment so you can prepare.

When you're in shock, it's easy not to hear or understand everything your physician tells you. Bring a family member or friend to take notes, or tape record your meeting so you can review it later.

Get a second opinion. Your physician should support you seeking a second opinion. After all, cancer is a serious illness. Another expert can confirm your diagnosis and help you make informed treatment decisions.

Get organized. Managing the paperwork and logistics of a serious illness can overwhelm you. Develop a system for keeping important information together and readily accessible. Ask your physician for copies of your medical records and lab results. Take notes at all your doctors' appointments and keep detailed records of your treatment.

Verify your health insurance. Find out what your insurance company will be responsible for and what expenses you will need to cover. Gather all the necessary forms you need to file claims.

Develop coping strategies. Coping is how you the use your thoughts and behaviors to adjust to life's situations. When you feel you don't have the resources to manage or control a situation, it causes distress. As you learn about your cancer and make treatment decisions, develop your own coping strategies.

In a study of young women (under 50) diagnosed with breast cancer, researchers identified several coping strategies, which you may find helpful, including:

  • 1. Positive cognitive restructuring (thinking about your illness differently)
  • 2. Making changes in your life
  • 3. Seeking and using social support
  • 4. Physical activity
  • 5. Using Complimentary and Alternative Medicine



National Cancer Institute. "Coping with Cancer: Supportive and Palliative Care." Web.

National Cancer Institute. "Adjustment to cancer: Anxiety and Distress. Web.  1 April 2010.

Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. "Recently Diagnosed." Web.

Manuel, Janeen C. PhD, Burwell, Stephanie R. PhD, Crawford, Sybil L. PhD, Lawrence, Renee H. PhD,  Farmer, Deborah F. PhD, Hege, Anita RN, MPH, Phillips, Kimberly RN, PhD, and Avis, Nancy E. PhD. "Younger Women's Perceptions of Coping With Breast Cancer ." Cancer Nursing 30(2) (2007): 85-94. Medscape Medical News. Web. 30 April 2007.