Dealing with a diagnosis
Finding out you have a cancer diagnosis is often a huge shock whether you were expecting the news or not. You may experience a flood of emotions and feel overwhelmed at first. People often imagine the worst, even though many cancers respond well to treatment.
You, your family and friends may have lots of questions, just at a time when you’re still trying to adjust to the diagnosis, and what it might mean for you.
The information on this page will help you to find out more about being newly diagnosed with cancer and discover ways to cope with emotions and practical issues this raises.
If you’re reading this, you may have just been told you have cancer. It can feel a huge shock, and you may already be experiencing a range of overwhelming emotions or feel numb especially if the news is recent.
There are few scarier words than ‘you have cancer’ – even if you’ve been worrying about symptoms for a while. Logically, the fears are often unfounded – many cancers respond well to treatment – however society has made ‘cancer’ a word to dread.
The first few days and weeks of a cancer diagnosis can be bewildering. You may feel you’re getting too little information, or too much. As well as worrying about the cancer, and what it means for you, you may have many other things on your mind.
Cancer rarely arrives at a convenient time - life, work, school, college, families - all still may have demands on your time. Often there are practical concerns about your financial situation, and how you might manage - and the impact your cancer may have on those closest to you.
It can be helpful to seek advice, information and support, early on, to help you and your family feel more in control of the situation. You may want to ask questions, and work out how best to get through treatment, practically and emotionally. Maggie’s has put together some tips to help you cope with your new diagnosis, in the days and weeks ahead.
Ways of coping with a new diagnosis
- Find out the facts: It helps to know more about what to expect treatment wise, what other tests are needed, and how long the treatment plan will last. Everyone’s capacity for taking in information is different, and you may want to take someone with you to listen and take notes.
- Be careful what you read on the internet: it can be helpful to use one of the recognised cancer information sites , initially, where information is tailored to be realistic but not overwhelming. You’ll find useful links on our Maggie’s web pages.
- Acknowledge your emotions: you may go through a range of emotions over the next days and weeks. These feelings do generally pass – as things move forward, and treatment decisions are made – but it’s OK to admit this is an upsetting time.
- Work and finances: If you're working, let your employers know that you are going to be off for treatment. Finances may to be a worry, - if so, seek advice. You could drop into one of our Maggie’s Centres to speak to a benefits advisor.
- Get to know the team that will be looking after you: if you have a specialist nurse, make contact, and ask any questions. A visit to your GP to explain the outcome of your appointment, and talk through how he/she can support through this may help too. A file to keep all the hospital letters, and appointments etc, can come in handy and a calendar for all the important dates.
- Tests take time: prepare for the waiting game. Having a diagnosis is often only the first part of a busy few weeks. It is an unsettling fact that there may be more tests, scans, and appointments before all the facts are obtained. If you’re anxious about results, things seem to be taking longer than predicted or you are feeling unwell don’t be frightened to chase things up.
- Taking care of body and mind: there are things you can do to help yourself to get through the waiting period before treatments begin. Looking at ways to eat well during your treatment, working at gentle exercise, and at ways to manage stress can all help you throughout your cancer treatment and beyond. Maggie’s Centres provide a range of workshops, courses and groups which will help provide you with the toolbox of coping skills.
- Be kind to yourself – the days after receiving a cancer diagnosis may feel overwhelming. If you need time out from work, or need to back out of social engagements for a while, then allow yourself that time. Keep in touch with the people you care about, but don’t feel you have to be seen to ‘cope’ – this is your time to reflect and regroup.
- Talk to others – initially you may not feel like discussing what is happening – it can make everything feel more real. Talking things through with others can help relieve the tension, share the problems, and ease concerns. Family, friends, work, etc, can be a source of support and comfort. People often offer help, and if they do, don’t hesitate to take them up on it. (You may need to specify in what way you can be helped).
- Making treatment decisions – you may be asked to make some treatment choices, and be given a lot of information to back this up. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – either at the appointment, or clarify things with your consultant/specialist nurse/GP if unsure. Visiting your nearest Maggie’s Centre, and talking with our cancer support specialists, can help make sense of the information overload.
- Find support – Finding a support mechanism that works for you is a good way of taking back control. This can be through support groups, online forums, and centres which offer support (such as Maggie’s Centres). Talking with other people who have been through similar experiences can be a great relief – hearing how people got through treatment, and how life is now, can give a sense of optimism.
When to seek further help
It’s normal to feel anxious and upset when given a cancer diagnosis. Some people feel numb, and go into ‘autopilot’ - seeming to cope with everything from day one. There’s no right or wrong way to react, but if you find you’re not sleeping, have a loss of appetite and the anxiety is overwhelming, do let someone know. Talking through your feelings with your doctor can help.
If you’re waiting for treatment to start and you have symptoms which are getting worse, or new problems which may be related to your cancer - tell your healthcare team. Sometimes the symptoms may be nothing to worry about, and not cancer related, but it is wise to check it out.
Have a look at our blogs and links on this page to find out more about coping with a new cancer diagnosis.
Check through any paperwork you’ve been given by the hospital, and if anything isn’t clear, do ask for further information.
Talk with others about what you are experiencing. It can help to hear that what you’re feeling is not unusual, and help you feel less alone. Call into your local Maggie’s Centre, or join our online forums to talk to cancer support specialists and connect with others in a similar position to yourself.