What to Do When You Hear the Words “You Have Cancer”

Coping with the News of Cancer

“You have cancer.” Those are easily three of the hardest words you’ll ever hear. The stunning revelation is sure to throw anyone for a loop. It doesn’t matter what kind of cancer you have, or whether or not you suspected that something was wrong, no one is ever prepared to hear those words. But now that you have heard them, what’s next?

Reacting to the News and Dealing with Your Emotions

You may be asking yourself “how should I be reacting?” or “what should I be feeling right now?” The answer is quite simple: there are no answers because everyone reacts differently. For some people, as soon as the shock wears off, they feel overwhelmed by a mixture of feelings, including anger, uncertainty, concern about their family members, their job, and their obligations and responsibilities. They may also be scared. Other people may feel so overwhelmed by the muddle of confusing emotions that they go numb. Don’t worry about what you’re feeling. It’s more important to give yourself permission to feel anything and everything. It truly is a grieving process, and you may feel some or all of the steps typical of any grief-driven event.

If you’re wondering how to support a friend or loved one who recently received a cancer diagnosis, understand that they may experience a total mental shutdown. It’s important to encourage them to say, feel, or do whatever they want in order to get through the hurt and move on to the healing.

Talk to People Who Understand What You’re Going Through

A first step might be to contact local hospitals or cancer treatment centers to find out about their resources including networks of supporters. You may find it helpful to share your feelings with a volunteer who has gone through everything you’re going through now. You will find that many survivors find healing through the support they give to people like you who haven’t started treatment yet. You will also be able to ask them questions about everything from requesting a second opinion to talking to your family and other people in your life when you aren’t sure you understand what you’re feeling yet. The validation, friendship, and love that you get from cancer survivors will help you deal with and process the complex range of feelings you experience.

Get a Second Opinion

Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to give you a referral to another specialist. A second opinion may help you come to grips with the diagnosis, but you may also learn about a variety of treatment options. Ask a lot of questions. You deserve explanations. Once you and your doctor agree on the course of therapy you’ll undergo, be sure your oncologist, surgeon, or radiation specialist explains the side effects that you may experience. Find out about all of the different treatment options there are for the type of cancer you have. Another benefit to asking for a second opinion is the fact that you can compare the communication styles of the doctors you see. One doctor may be willing to spend as much time with you as you need, while another doctor may rush through the appointment. By talking to different doctors, you may find out about the possibility of joining clinical trials. If you do join a clinical trial, you won’t have to worry about out of pocket costs because they’re covered.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers and colleagues. They will want to be there for you every step of the way because they love you. When people offer to do things for you so you can focus on getting well, accept their help. If there’s one thing that everyone knows about cancer, it’s that “No One Fights Alone!®

Check out The Emotional Impact of a Cancer Diagnosis posted by Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. This guide is a gold mine of helpful information for any newly diagnosed cancer patient. So many of your questions and concerns are discussed and you may gain some great insight into the journey that lies ahead.

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One comment on “What to Do When You Hear the Words “You Have Cancer”
  1. Judy Keating says:

    So blessed to b able to get the information I need. I was recently diagnosed with small cell lung cancer. Thank you for your continued support!!!!

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