5 Tips For A First Time Patient With Cancer


A two-time cancer survivor looks back at her cancer journey and offers 4 tips for a first-time patient with cancer.

Did you or someone you care about recently get a cancer diagnosis? Are you in shock? Worried? Unsure of what to do or where to turn? If so, you are having a very normal reaction to a very serious life-changing diagnosis. I had breast cancer ten years ago and then melanoma five years ago.

I wanted to reflect back in time and share hope and ideas to help you:

1. Write everything down

Your questions, what the doctors tell you and your own concerns. Don’t torture yourself with trying to remember everything and learning all of the new information that gets thrown at you in Cancerland. It is also really helpful to journal your thoughts and feelings through this process to help make sense of the complicated feelings that arise. Journaling can help you heal and get through cancer treatment and beyond.

2. Research your diagnosis

When you research your diagnosis, stay with reliable major sources—major hospitals, clinics, and cancer organizations that specialize in your specific cancer diagnosis. You can also ask friends and family if they know of anyone local who has been through something like your diagnosis. But, beware—don’t over-research.

Too much information can lead to panic or relying on information not relevant to your specific disease. The amount of research can be a delicate balance that is unique to each cancer patient, and remember, not everyone’s experience is the same. Genetics, gender, age and other health conditions come into play. Someone else’s bad experience will not necessarily be yours. People tend to post online when things go wrong and be silent when everything is going along just fine.

3. Put together a cancer medical team

When I needed a double mastectomy with reconstruction, I chose a surgeon who did this procedure several times a week rather than only a few times per month. Do your research, make your decisions and then trust the team you have assembled to take care of your medical needs. That does not mean don’t ask questions when you have them. It means that you can reduce some of your worries by trusting your medical team at your cancer care facility.

4. Recognize the mental and emotional components of your cancer diagnosis

You may be worried, anxious, depressed, scared or having trouble sleeping. After all, you are in a fight for your life, literally. Please tell your doctors if you are emotionally struggling with your diagnosis. It is very common, and there are many tools to help you. Medication, talk therapy, and cancer support groups can be really useful to you as you navigate your journey.

5. Do not try to go through cancer treatment by yourself

Build your personal team (friends, family, neighbors, faith community) and your cancer team (not just doctors but in-person or online support groups as well). Connect with people who have had a cancer diagnosis like yourself who understand your experience. Even if there is only one person or if you need to reach out online, do not do cancer alone. You will need help every step of the way.

And finally, be gentle with yourself. Give yourself time to process. Dust off and use any comfort techniques that have helped you get through difficult times in the past and be open to exploring some new ones like mindfulness meditations or a new activity to keep your hands and mind busy with non-cancer-related activities.

Take a breath. You are not alone. You are here and you can get through this.

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