What I Would Tell My Newly Diagnosed Self

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If I could turn back time and speak to my newly diagnosed self, here's what I'd say!

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Natasha Carlson

This is a common exercise amongst cancer support organizations. They advise telling people with cancer to write a letter or offer advice to their pastnewly-diagnosed selves. At first, I thought this was a bit silly. But I tried it, and I was surprised at what came out.

To my newly diagnosed self:

First and foremost, BREATHE! I know it seems like the world is ending right now. So much shock and confusion and fear… It’s totally normal to feel this way.

Take things one day at a time. If that is too overwhelming, then take things one hour at a time, or even one minute at a time. Baby steps. You will get there.

It is terrifying to hear that you have cancer. Once you and your medical team have come up with a treatment plan, you will feel better, I promise. The cognitive and emotional impact of having a defined plan is crucial and it will help as you navigate the coming days, weeks and months.

Ask questions. Do your research. Write things down, including all questions and concerns that come up that you want to ask at your appointments. It’s amazing how a concern that is so pressing and serious seems to completely evaporate out of your head when you are in the room with the doctor and you can’t remember anything. Bring someone with you, if possible, to be a support for you, to help you remember issues you wanted to address or to just be an extra set of ears at your appointments.

It is OK to feel however you are feeling. Indeed, it is critical to “feel all the feels” no matter what anyone says. Cancer evokes all kinds of emotions! Allow yourself to experience the spectrum of feelings that come your way. This is necessary and normal when faced with such a life-altering diagnosis.

You need support right now. People will ask how they can help you. LET THEM! Give people very specific practical tasks that they can do to help you. Maybe you need help with grocery shopping, or meal prep, or household chores. Perhaps you could use assistance with transportation to appointments or running errands. By clearly communicating your needs, it allows for some degree of organization of the help that is coming your way and gives your well-wishers a way to be useful.

The practical help (household chores, meal train, etc…) will likely end at a certain point, but your need for social support may continue. Build your team of people who can provide that emotional and social support. Other cancer survivors who have been through this before are a truly invaluable resource. Being with people who “get it” is SO necessary and so freeing. You won’t need to explain or define how you are feeling because they just know.

One of the most painful and frustrating things about cancer is that it comes with what seems to be a complete loss of control. Some of this is inevitable, but try to focus on the things that you CAN control, no matter how small.

You will discover an incredible amount about yourself. You will grow in ways you never imagined before, and in the process, you will be able to help lots of people who come after you by sharing your wisdom, insight and support.

If I had read something like this immediately after my diagnosis, I like to think that it would have made the journey just a little bit easier. Hopefully this can reach someone out there who needs to hear this now.

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