What To Do Next After Finding Out You Have Cancer

November 30, 2020
Jane Biehl Ph.D.
Jane Biehl Ph.D.

Jane is a ten-year survivor of a very rare form of cancer Myelodysplastic Syndrome. She has enjoyed several exciting careers including a librarian, counselor, teacher, and writer. She loves to write about surviving cancer, overcoming hearing loss, and her hearing ear service dog, Sita.

A cancer survivor shares some ways she coped when confronted with her cancer diagnosis.

Every one of us remembers our shock when we were told we had the dreaded C-word. We usually recall with clarity the doctor’s words, the size of the room, and who was with us. We share similar feelings of bewilderment, fear and the huge question—are we going to die?

We undergo treatments and hope for the best. Some of us initially turn inward, and others reach out. Everyone is different and copes in their own way, but there are some coping skills that helped me with this with a life-changing diagnosis I wish to share.

Follow your first instinct. Cry, throw things, get angry and feel sorry for yourself. Whatever works to let off steam is permissible short of hurting yourself or others. You have every right to be angry. I often say I do not ask why I got cancer but why anyone gets this insidious disease. Tell others if you want to be alone to process everything or need a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes it is both of these on the same day.

Do eventually reach out. Sometimes you feel friends and family have abandoned you because they leave you alone. Actually, how do they know what you need? Call them and ask for help if you need food brought, your place cleaned, errands run or just someone to talk or sit with you. Going inward and not asking for help over long periods of time is emotionally unhealthy.

Check-in with your doctor, nurse navigator or the oncology nurses about support groups with other people who have a similar diagnosis. People who have gone through the same thing as you can be a huge help, as any cancer survivors feel like we reach one hand forward to heal ourselves and another hand back to pull people up with us.

Unfortunately, I do not know one other person in my area with the type of cancer I have because it is so rare. But I have made friends through social media and international organizations like the Myelodysplastic Syndrome Foundation and Aplastic Anemia and Myelodysplastic Syndrome Foundation. The people there have helped me immensely.

Also, ask your doctor questions and admit you are scared. Share your concerns with them. Do not just sit there and wait for them to tell you what you need to know. They can’t because every one of us has different fears and level of knowledge and they do not mind readers. Make a list of questions to help you remember. It is advisable to take someone else with you to write down information and help you process what is happening. If the doctors refuse to answer questions repeatedly or belittle you in any way – fire them. You need honest and compassionate answers, and you deserve them!

Another very important hint is to watch where you get your information. Google or search discriminately. I had a friend who feared she would be dead in a couple of months. I was puzzled with this reaction given the type of cancer she had. When I quizzed her why she felt this way she confessed, “Someone put this on the Internet.” Go to reliable sources. Your doctor can give you some ideas. Some suggestions I have include MD Anderson, Web MD, Mayo Clinic, CURE®, and Cleveland Clinic. You may need to go to a specific website for your type of cancer like I did with my MDS diagnosis. Some anecdotal stories can be helpful, but they are not always accurate. Remember people tend to put bad experiences rather than good ones online. Marketing experts say a happy customer tells 3 people, but an unhappy one tells 10 people! Look at it this way, people with positive outlooks are probably out living life.

Try to relax any way you can. Exercise, reading, television, coffee with friends, meditating or any other way is OK. Honestly, I have coped with the horrible COVID-19 by watching occasional Hallmark movies, because I want positive endings. My friends tease me because of the shallow plots, but I think they understand!

Try to live for today. Worrying about the future will ruin the present, and remember to not be afraid to talk to others and reach out. Cancer is a life-changer, but you can cope with help. Try to remember most people are good and want to help you with the journey. Those who don’t, you want to avoid because you need positive attitudes rather than negative in your life. You will live longer and be happier!