Brought to you by Cancer Council NSW
Did you know that in New South Wales alone, 46,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed every year? I was one of those 46,000 twice, and those diagnoses didn’t just impact my life significantly, they impacted the lives of those around me too.
A cancer diagnosis is all encompassing. It involves not just the person who has been diagnosed but their partners, carers and family all of whom have to deal with increasingly complex decisions that require an understanding of cancer, its treatment and ongoing management.
No matter how prepared you think you might be for a cancer diagnosis, nothing can actually prepare you for hearing the words, “it’s cancer”.
However, there are some coping strategies that I’ve tried and tested (both times) that can make a really stressful time easier.
1. Get informed
One of the most challenging things about a cancer diagnosis is the fear of the unknown. However, knowledge is power and the more you know and learn about your cancer and your diagnosis, it’s likely the better you’ll feel. It’s really important to remember that “Dr Google” has not been to medical school, and any questions you have should be directed at someone who has. I once consulted Dr Google who told me I would likely be dead in three years. Here I am alive and kicking almost 6 years later, so it just goes to show, don’t believe everything you read on the internet kids!
If you have any questions (and believe me you will have a lot,) do ask a member of your medical team. If you have a burning question in-between appointments, phone or email your doctor who will be happy to answer it for you.
2. Get Organised
If you prefer to get your answers face to face, then I suggest writing all your questions down. I carried a notebook around in my bag and had it next to my bed, because questions would pop into my brain at any given time. That notebook became my best accessory at appointment time because I got all the information I needed and the more I knew and understood, the less fear I felt.
A cancer diagnosis brings a mountain of paper work, so it’s a good idea to keep all your health information in a binder. You can include doctors’ letters, receipts and invoices, relevant medical information, names and addresses of your medical team and also scheduled appointments.
3. Take Control
A cancer diagnosis can leave you feeling utterly disempowered and as if you’ve lost control. Learning about your cancer and treatment can give you some control over what is happening and help in keeping everyday life as normal as possible. There’s something really comforting about “everyday normal” after a cancer diagnosis, when everything else seems somehow different.
4. Be Kind to Yourself
A cancer diagnosis brings its own unique set of mental and physical challenges. Rather than punishing yourself for the things that you can’t do, show yourself some love, and give yourself permission to take it easy. Your body will love you for it!
Indulge in some self care – whether it’s a yoga class, curling up with a book or getting your craft on. If it makes you feel rested and relaxed just do it.
Remember to keep on moving, as much and often as you can and set those endorphins free. I exercised right up until the date of my surgery (and as soon as I was able to after) which enhanced both my physical and emotional wellbeing. However, do consider your diagnosis and treatment and check with your doctor if, what and when it’s safe to exercise.
Worries and fears are nocturnal beasts but it’s worth developing some healthy sleep hygiene habits. It may help to change when and how you sleep, for example, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, avoiding caffeine in the evening, reading before lights out and leaving your phone someplace other than the bedroom. The more sleep you’ll get the better you’ll feel.
5. Rally Your Troops
Telling your friends and family can be heartbreakingly hard. No one wants to upset the people they love and care about, but it’s important to remember that your friends and family love you back and they’ll want to support you. However, not everyone will know how to react or how to support you best. It’s OK to ask for help, and to say what you need, whether it’s someone to listen, to give you a hug or help you out with cooking or stuff around the house.
6. Get professional help
Believe me when I say cancer affects your mind as much as it affects your body. A diagnosis brings on a case of “all the feels.” You’ll likely experience feelings of shock, denial, anxiety, panic, fear, sadness and anger to name but a few and managing these emotions on your own is lonely work. One of the first things I did after my diagnosis, was to reach out to a therapist. The earlier you see a therapist the better, because you’ll have support through every stage of the process.
Cancer is a scary business. No matter how open and honest your relationships are with your loved ones, there are some things you just won’t want to talk about with them, because you won’t want to burden them, after all, they are worried and frightened too. Having someone you can talk to about your fears, openly and honestly without judgement is such a positive and cathartic experience.
7. Stay positive
Staying positive isn’t going to cure your cancer but it sure is going to help you cope with it better. Encourage yourself where possible, high five yourself for your strength and courage, make the most of the times you feel well, and make it your goal to put as much life in each day as you can.
For more information about dealing with a diagnosis, check out Cancer Council NSW’s new podcast series – ‘The Thing About Cancer’. Each episode focuses on a different theme and features guests with expert knowledge in the area. The series covers everything from how to explain cancer to kids, managing cancer fatigue and everything in between.
Have you got any tips to add to the list?
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