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Coming to Terms with Your Cancer Diagnosis

When you received your cancer diagnosis, it may have felt like the end of the world, or maybe you found yourself living in a haze for a while. Coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis takes time. Your mind has a lot to process, so you’ll feel many things: fear, anxiety, hopelessness, sadness.

If your prognosis is good and there’s a good chance for a cure, then these emotions may not be as severe, but if your prognosis is uncertain or appears poor, these feelings may be magnified.

Processing your emotions

The word cancer has a profound effect, particularly when you’re on the receiving end of the diagnosis. But despite the natural fear generated by this diagnosis, most people with cancer today will, in fact, be cured of their illness. Cancer is no longer the death sentence it once was, and, for some, the diagnosis brings a whole new meaning to life.

The process of cancer management is a journey, with the diagnosis only being the first stop. You’ll experience a whole range of emotions as you work toward recovery. That’s completely natural. But regardless of where you are and any frustrations and setbacks you may encounter along the way, trying to remain optimistic is important, even if your prognosis doesn’t seem favorable.

Remember that no one comes with an expiration date! And some evidence suggests that optimism can be an important key to good outcomes.

And there’s good reason to be optimistic. These days, treatment can be highly successful in relieving and preventing symptoms, improving overall quality of life, substantially extending survival, and, in many settings, actually eliminating the disease.

In fact, the very term survivorship has been developed to describe the process of recuperation. The idea is that you begin this journey the day the diagnosis is made and continue to concentrate your personal efforts on the goal of survival, whether you’re ultimately cured or you end up living with your cancer.

With all the treatments these days, even if you can’t be cured, chances are good that there’s a treatment that can extend your life for many years to come. Plus, new treatments are constantly under investigation and being approved. So, there’s considerable hope when you find yourself duking it out in the cancer arena.

It’s okay for you to cry and be angry. Letting out those emotions is better than keeping them bottled up inside. But it’s also critical not to let your emotions impede your ability to progress down the cancer treatment road.

Telling family and friends

Informing your family and friends that you have cancer isn’t easy, particularly if your suggested prognosis is less than optimal.

Saying the words may be difficult, but remember that these are the people who love and understand you most, and they want nothing more than to provide you with support. They’ll understand if you need to say the words through tears, by cracking a joke, or by sounding very matter of fact.

But no matter how you tell them, the best thing you can do is be honest with them, while also letting them know what you need. Just like you, they may feel afraid, angry, and helpless. They may also be concerned about saying the wrong things. By involving them in your cancer journey and letting them know what you need, you may just strengthen the bonds with the people you’re closest to.

Finding the support you need

Your family and close friends may provide you with all the support you need to get through your cancer journey. After all, they can serve as a sounding board for your diagnosis, prognosis, and experiences; help you with chores if you’re too tired to do them yourself; and just provide you with love and support (for example, by holding your hand if you need it).

But if this support isn’t enough for you, or if you want to connect with others who already have or are currently walking the cancer road, you may want to look into support groups. Numerous options are available, from faith-based groups to cancer-specific support groups.

Some support groups regularly meet in person, whereas others are web based, allowing you to connect with people through message boards, video chats, text chats, and other means. The American Cancer Society maintains a list of organizations that provide support groups.

In some circumstances, you may consider seeking assistance from a medical professional, such as a psychologist, social worker, or counselor. Cancer can lead to a range of emotions, and a therapist may be able to help guide you through these emotions and provide you with new insights.

If your emotions are preventing you from moving forward with treatment (for example, because you’re afraid of the side effects), seeking support is especially important, because delaying treatment can lead to poor outcomes.

Getting prepared

There’s no simple formula for preparing for the future, but obtaining as much helpful information regarding your particular cancer type and available therapeutic options is an essential first step. By being well informed, you’re in the best position to work with your healthcare team to optimize your treatments.

Getting information from reputable sources is critical. Fortunately, there are many of them. First and foremost, your healthcare providers — both your primary-care doctor and specialty medical team — should be able to provide you with important information or point you in the right direction.

The Internet is also increasingly serving as a vital source of information for people with serious medical conditions, including cancer. When seeking information online, look to government sites (like the National Cancer Institute), cancer organizations (like the American Cancer Society), professional medical organizations (like the American Society of Clinical Oncology), and treatment center websites (like the Cancer Treatment Centers of America).

When your treatment plan is developed, take the time to understand it. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. When it comes to cancer and its management, there are simply no silly or stupid questions, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

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