What I Wish I Knew When I was Diagnosed with Cancer

What I Wish I Knew When I was Diagnosed with Cancer

For many people, that moment when the doctor says ‘you have cancer’ is forever etched in your memory in detail. However, what comes next, and in the weeks that follow, is often just a big blur. You are now starting down a new, life-changing path filled with emotional and physical ups and downs. Your daily life will change almost immediately to accommodate treatment. Being prepared for the potential changes ahead puts you in the best position possible to manage this experience. Call and talk with one of our Lifeline Specialists who can help you process what you are experiencing.

It’s Ok to not be Ok! Give yourself time to learn & understand terminology at first: Many say it’s like learning a new language with new terms, acronyms, and medical jargon. Feel empowered to ask questions! The more you know, the better. When you are physically unable to do something, let someone help you. If you are struggling physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s okay. In fact, it’d be odd if you weren’t at some level. Lean into your support system, wherever that is.

Fatigue is real. Fatigue brought on by cancer treatment is not to be downplayed or ignored. It is persistent and exhausting no matter how much sleep you get. Be sure you let your health care providers know about the fatigue you are experiencing as there are interventions that may help. In addition, conserve your energy and plan your activities so that you have the energy to do what is most important to you. Additionally, be sure to attend to your own self-care. You know what you need to do to take care of yourself and it is critical to not let these things slip off your plate. Take a walk each day (or whatever form of exercise you have been doing), take that afternoon nap, and keep eating a healthy diet. If you practice meditation or mindfulness, be sure to continue with your practice. All efforts toward self-care will boost your energy level!

Chemo Brain is real. Chemotherapy drugs can make your brain feel ‘foggy.’ Your thinking is slower than usual, you can’t follow conversations, you might have difficulty finding the right words during conversations and you can’t multi-task like you once could. Be sure to tell your health care team if you are experiencing any of these side effects and explore interventions you can do on your own such as exercise, mindfulness meditation, and other activities to help you focus more easily.

There may be times when you feel anxious, frightened, and lonely. Living with cancer is stressful. There are so many unknowns to deal with in addition to the day-to-day struggles. If ever there was a point in time to focus on nurturing our social connections, it is when you are told you have cancer. Nothing good will come from hunkering down with “me, myself and I” for days on end. We run the risk of getting caught in the cycle of unwanted thoughts that only raises our stress, anxiety, and fear. Talking and sharing with others can provide much needed stress relief and help with those feelings of being all alone. Consider joining one of Cancer Lifeline’s Cancer Support Groups to be with others who truly get what you are going through.

You don’t have to be positive and optimistic for everyone. Yes, having a positive mind set about getting through treatment and ‘beating’ your cancer is helpful. But there are going to be days when you are sad, angry, and just plain fed up with what you are experiencing. That is normal and you need to honor those feelings as well, despite what those around you are comfortable with. You are grieving what once was, the physical changes in your body, and the fact that your body didn’t get the memo about how having a healthy lifestyle should keep you safe from cancer. To grieve well, we need to acknowledge and give into the hard feelings so we can move through them.

Ask for and be willing to receive help. The last thing in the world any of us want is to be seen as weak, needy, and vulnerable even while living with cancer. However, ask yourself what benefit there would be to accepting offers of assistance and conserving your energy. Remember, there is no greater gift you can give those you love and care about than to tell them how they can help you. Your friends and family do want to find meaningful ways to help, so this is helping them, help you.

Cancer doesn’t end when treatment is done. Unfortunately, this is a fact. You may come through treatment without too many side effects and will only require regular and frequent follow-up visits for a few years. Or you are still experiencing significant fatigue or pain even though treatment has ended. You are probably experiencing changes in your body image, your sense of self, your identity and even in your relationships with the people in your life. All of these require you to change and adapt to a new way of being in the world. This is your process to navigate. You are unique and in control of your life. Just remember to be patient, kind and compassionate with yourself as you move through this part of your cancer journey. There is no set timeline for this. Cancer Lifeline’s classes and support groups can help you navigate these concerns and connect you to practical resources to get you through treatment and beyond.

Cancer Lifeline’s FREE Programs and Services for CANCER PATIENTS, SURVIVORS, and CAREGIVERS are here to help you!

Register to join Online Support Groups. Nothing can compare to the feeling of being a part of a community of people who truly understand your experience and “get it.” Support groups (all cancers & cancer specific) meet regularly and welcome new members! For dates and times go to the Cancer Lifeline Support Group page on our website. Call the Lifeline or connect through Lifeline Chat: Need someone to listen and help you sort out your feelings? Call the Lifeline at (800) 255-5505 or (206) 297-2500 (9am-5pm). Lifeline Chat can be accessed by clicking the green “We are here to listen” button on any page of our website.

Access Cancer Lifeline’s Cancer Specific Psychotherapy and Family Support Programs: Contact Pamela Krueger at pkrueger@cancerlifeline.org or 206-832-1271

Access Cancer Lifeline’s Therapist Referral Program: Receive names of therapists in the local community who have experience working with people affected by cancer. Referrals and support in choosing a therapist are available for patients, survivors, family members, friends, and oncology professionals. Referrals are free. Cancer Lifeline does not arrange payment with therapists on behalf of clients or check insurance benefits, this is the client’s responsibility. For more information, call the Lifeline at 206-297-2500 between the hours of 9 am- 5 pm or visit: https://cancerlifeline.org/counseling-services/

Access Cancer Lifeline’s presentations and classes (creative expression, exercise and movement, nutrition, and stress reduction) by going to the Cancer Lifeline website or calling the Lifeline: (800) 255-5505 or (206) 297-2500 (M-F 9am-5pm PST.) You can now participate in our support groups and classes online from the comfort of your home!

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