There's nothing that takes your breath away quite like hearing your doctor say, "I'm sorry, it's cancer." Being diagnosed with cancer is a frightening and life-changing experience, but fear is often best countered with knowledge and a plan. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, my husband and I were both college students and our daughter was still an infant. Our lives were turned entirely upside down, but the strategies outlined here helped us deal with the challenge of cancer and it's treatment.
Devise a "Waiting" Strategy
Unfortunately, one of the enduring realities of living with cancer is that you will spend an unreasonable amount of time waiting. You'll spend time waiting for doctor appointments, waiting for chemotherapy infusions to finish, and just waiting for the whole cancer treatment process to be completed.
I have three suggestions for a waiting strategy:
- Get a tablet computer if you can. This will travel easily from room to room, and allow you to stay up to date with friends on Facebook and email, read an e-book, or watch a movie as you pass the time.
- Schedule friends to accompany you to some (or all) of your appointments. Having a friend with you can make everything much easier.
- Start making lists of things you enjoy and things that make you feel good. It might seem silly to make a list of these things, but the mental fatigue that accompanies treatment can make it difficult to remember what you like or figure out what you want to do. If you have a list of movies you want to watch, it can make picking a movie a little easier. A list of things that make you feel better when you're out of sorts can help lift you out of the doldrums. Think of things like clean sheets on the bed, cat videos on the internet, a bouquet of fresh flowers on the table, a bath, or a walk in the fresh air. Think of what works to make you feel better, so you can turn to that list when you're feeling down.
Get Comfortable With Communication
This step is much easier for some people than others, but improving your communication skills will improve your quality of life through this experience. One of the most important areas of communication is how you talk with your doctor. This is very difficult for me. I start feeling awkward and worry about whether the doctor will think I'm weird or uncool, but I have to get over it and talk about the important things.
Unfortunately, intestinal issues often impact people with cancer. Nobody wants to talk about poop, but many of the issues you'll deal with can be corrected, or at least eased, but only if the doctor knows about them. Cancer treatment also impacts sexual function for many, and that is another area where doctors can be helpful if they know you're having an issue. You just have to be willing to talk about it. Don't suffer in silence.
Build Your Team
Communicating with your friends and family is also crucial for getting through treatment. Setting up a communication portal through a blog or a site like CaringBridge can help you keep people up to date on your condition, while relieving you of the task of having to retell the same story over and over. You can just refer people to your page.
The hardest thing for me to learn after being diagnosed with cancer was how to ask for and accept help. I'm independent by nature, but I found that there were some things I simply could not do during this time. I couldn't take care of my baby by myself — I was too fatigued — and I couldn't pick her up after the mastectomy. Once I learned to accept the help that was offered, and ask for the help I needed, things became much easier.
Talk to Others Who Have Had a Similar Diagnosis
Talking to others with a similar diagnosis can help you figure out a better picture of the road ahead, and perhaps ease your mind a bit. Shortly after I was diagnosed, I was introduced to the Young Survival Coalition, which focuses on the unique needs of young women with breast cancer. Talking to the women in this group was so helpful. Not only did they have personal experience with breast cancer treatment, but many of them also received treatment with young children. There are many different support groups available for a variety of diagnoses and demographics. Some of these groups meet in person, and others use messaging systems, where you can chat or leave messages for each other on a digital bulletin board.
If you've just been diagnosed with cancer, you're probably feeling overwhelmed by a number of things. Keep these tips in your back pocket as you start treatment, and hopefully they will help you like they helped me.