10 Tips for Dealing With a Cancer Diagnosis
The call from my doctor was one I’ll never forget. I had recently undergone a biopsy of my thyroid gland after an ultrasound revealed a suspicious spot. My doctor assured me before the biopsy that it was likely benign, but it was important to check it out further.
When he called only three days after the biopsy, I had an immediate ominous feeling that he was going to tell me what I didn’t want to hear. “Carrie, this is Dr. Bennett calling.” My heart sank at the sound of his voice. “We got the results from your biopsy. They found cancer cells. You’ll need to have surgery sometime in the next six weeks to remove the cancer.”
I nearly collapsed in distress after hearing what he said. It was the call nobody ever wants and one that forever changes the course of one’s life. I was utterly devastated to receive a cancer diagnosis at the age of 37, and it took courage and strength I didn’t know I had to recover both physically and emotionally.
I made a lot of mistakes after my diagnosis, including not accepting help from others and not giving myself enough time to recover from surgery. I suffered the consequences by feeling isolated, afraid and unwell. It wasn’t until several years after my cancer surgery that I started to feel back to my “old” self, although life certainly was never the same as before cancer.
The good news is that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to be as hard for other people as I made it for myself. There are a lot more resources available even in just the five years since I went though the experience.
I compiled these tips to help you or someone you love who might be dealing with some of the same things I dealt with. I’ll never say I appreciate cancer because it made me a stronger or better person, but it was an experience that made me take a hard look at how I treat myself and realize I had to slow down and take care of myself as well as I take care of others I love.
Tips for Dealing With a Cancer Diagnosis
1. Find social support. It might seem obvious, but support can come from family members, friends, nurses, healthcare providers or other patients. The important part is you feel you have people to talk to and you don’t feel isolated or alone.
2. Ask for help. Even small tasks like cooking dinner every night can become overwhelming. Practice asking for help with little things, like asking a neighbor to take your trash cans out for you. People most likely would love to lend a helping hand when you could use some extra help.
3. Allow yourself to grieve. A cancer diagnosis is life-altering. It brings up all kinds of feelings and regrets and fears. If you have to have surgery like I did, it’s normal and healthy to grieve for losing a part of your body, even if it is cancerous. For me, I had to grieve for the loss of my thyroid gland.
4. Practice self-care. This is a popular trend right now, but it can be a difficult habit to take into practice. Self-care habits can be anything from taking a bath to reading a book to getting a massage. The important part is it feels loving toward yourself. You need all the love you can get right now, and who better to love than yourself?
5. Choose foods and supplements to support your healing. Your doctor or cancer care center will likely have a recommended diet and supplement routine for you to follow, and most likely that includes a variety of nourishing real, whole foods. A clean eating diet doesn’t have to be restrictive, but it emphasizes more natural foods and fewer processed foods. Supplements that support the immune system can be helpful before or after your treatment (again, just be sure to ask your doctor about which supplements you are taking).
6. Practice mindfulness. A cancer diagnosis can lead to an increase in anxiety and even panic. Sitting quietly or journaling for 10-15 minutes several times a day can help you focus on your present situation and keep fears about the future at bay. If you are experiencing panic attacks or severe anxiety, it is best to reach out to a therapist to help you cope.
7. Plan something fun for the future. After my cancer diagnosis and as I was preparing for surgery, I set the goal of going to Europe. I didn’t know how or when that would happen, but it gave me something to look forward to. Three years after my surgery, I went on an unforgettable river boat tour with my husband through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Hungary.
8. Stay active, but don’t overdo it. Gentle activity like gentle yoga, tai chi or walking outside can do a lot for both your mental and physical health after a cancer diagnosis.
9. Practice breathing exercises. Simple breath work that includes counting to four (both breathing in and out) can be a helpful practice to calm the nervous system. Try to practice every day so it feels natural. Be especially aware of your breath as you undergo any stressful procedures during your treatment.
10. Don’t give up hope. Ever. There are incredible strides being made in cancer treatment. Do your research, and make sure you feel confident and comfortable with your doctors and treatments. It’s not as easy road, but there is so much hope for recovery.
I was fortunate that my cancerous tumor was found relatively early. Even though the experience was hugely traumatic and disruptive and frightening, after five years of living as a cancer survivor, I have found healing and hope for my life after cancer. I’m hugely grateful to be past what was the hardest obstacle I’ve ever had to face, and even more committed to a healthy lifestyle than ever. It’s not about living in fear or regret, but moving forward with intention, gratitude, and reverence for each amazing day we get to be alive.
Carrie Forrest has masters degrees in business and public health nutrition, and is the creator of the popular blog, Clean Eating Kitchen. Carrie inspires healthy eating with her delicious gluten- and dairy-free recipes and tips. Carrie is also host of the Clean Eating for Women podcast, available on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever podcasts are found.
Reference for this article: 1: Usta YY. Importance of social support in cancer patients. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2012;13(8):3569-72. Review. PubMed PMID: 23098436.