Chris’ Tips: Surviving the Cancer Diagnosis

cancer diagnosis tips

These cancer diagnosis tips were written by our co-founder, Chris McHugh, who was diagnosed with late-stage inflammatory breast cancer in 1997. At the young age of 34, she was given 18 months to live, but her journey lasted nearly 6 years. She made it her mission to provide support, raise awareness, and educate others.

Managing a Cancer Diagnosis

During her treatment, Chris went through well over 100 rounds of chemo, a bilateral mastectomy, a bone marrow transplant, 6+ weeks of radiation and 42 days of IL2 injections.

She didn’t waste a minute of the life she was given; she made memories with family and friends, she taught the medical profession the symptoms of IBC so no other woman would go undiagnosed, she worked with lawmakers to ensure new drugs were made available, and she always made time to provide support for others who were newly diagnosed.

Chris was well acquainted with all the ins and outs of cancer treatment, and therefore, she felt it was important to offer her hard-earned advice to others. She wrote these tips on how to survive the life-altering cancer diagnosis in the hope that it would benefit someone else.

Surviving: Helpful Steps When You are Diagnosed with Cancer

  1. Get to the best National Cancer Center. Usually, a training school facility will have the latest treatments available. Sometimes you have to push until it feels uncomfortable to find the newest treatments. This is something we should do in life whether we are decorating or finding the best treatment.
  2. Cancer is BIG money business to hospital and treatment centers. You are hiring this professional, so get different opinions until you are comfortable. Remember this doctor will be with you until they die or you die. Does your doctor have the same goals as you do? Do you share the same values? Remember, YOU know your disease, you can make choices. No one will walk into the room and say they will cure you. You have to fight for the best treatment and care. I interviewed three doctors and asked them questions. The most important question to me was, “After I listen to your treatment plan, may I choose what I think is best for me?” My doctor answered, “absolutely!”
  3. Make doctors aware of your life and your life stories. Make yourself human to them. Make sure your doctor knows you are loved. During my bone marrow transplant, I wore a button every day that said, “I AM LOVED.”
  4. Do not consider yourself a statistic. Doctors can only give you their human opinion. My attitude and my family’s love changed my statistics.
  5. Support groups were my lifeline. They know how you feel, making you feel less isolated.
  6. Wrap yourself in a blanket of love provided by family and friends. Allow others to take care of you so you can take care of yourself.
  7. You have choices…choose to be POSITIVE! A positive attitude has everything to do with it! Choose to make the most out of any situation, but don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad day. Forgive yourself and go on. 8. Be honest about your feelings with yourself and share them with family, spouse, and friends. Sometimes saying it out loud allows you to move on.
  8. Avoid toxic people. You know who they are. You work with them. You live next door to them. You may even live with them! Put a sign on the front door that reads “Don’t come in if you can’t be POSITIVE!”
  9. Financial burdens and giving up work both cause emotional strife. If you can’t work, remember you ARE working. Your job is to heal.
  10. Headphones and meditation. I couldn’t have survived without these two. Use your mind, it’s the most powerful tool you have. Learn to relax and understand your body. Let your heart and mind be open to messages.
  11. You’re not dying the day you’re diagnosed, so seize the day. Never lose your faith. Never lose hope and believe in prayer. Believe in miracles!
  12. My belief is to use the “Biggest Guns” they have, but remember treatment choices are as unique as your cancer is and as unique as you are. Life goals, general health, and age are all factors. When we use words like “win” and “lose” with cancer we are setting ourselves up for feelings like “failure”. You make the best choice at the time and don’t look back.

Although Chris passed away in 2003, she leaves the legacy of her timeless cancer diagnosis tips, helpful for anyone who has been recently diagnosed or is just beginning cancer treatment. Throughout her cancer journey, she played many roles including a caregiver, an advocate, and family and friends to those going through their own cancer journey, and wrote tips for each.

The links below provide tips specific to each role in a print-friendly version for your convenience.

Cancer Tips for Family, Friends, and Coworkers

Caregiver Tips

Chemo Savvy Tips

Tips for Someone Newly Diagnosed


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