Cancer diagnosis: 11 tips for coping

If you've been diagnosed with cancer, knowing what to expect and making plans for how to proceed can help make this stressful time easier.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Learning that you have cancer is a difficult experience. After your cancer diagnosis, you may feel anxious, afraid or overwhelmed and wonder how you can cope during the days ahead. Here are 11 suggestions for coping with a cancer diagnosis.

Get the facts about your cancer diagnosis

Try to obtain as much basic, useful information about your cancer diagnosis as you need in order to make decisions about your care.

Write down your questions and concerns beforehand and bring them with you. Consider asking:

  • What kind of cancer do I have?
  • Where is the cancer?
  • Has it spread?
  • Can my cancer be treated?
  • What is the chance that my cancer can be cured?
  • What other tests or procedures do I need?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • How will the treatment benefit me?
  • What can I expect during treatment?
  • What are the side effects of the treatment?
  • When should I call the doctor?
  • What can I do to prevent my cancer from recurring?
  • How likely are my children or other family members to get cancer?

Consider bringing a family member or friend with you to your first few doctor appointments to help you remember what you hear.

You might also want to consider how much you want to know about your cancer. Some people want all the facts and details, so they can be very involved in the decision-making process. Others prefer to learn the basics and leave details and decisions to their doctors. Think about which approach works best for you. Let your health care team know what you'd prefer.

Keep the lines of communication open

Maintain honest, two-way communication with your loved ones, doctors and others after your cancer diagnosis. You may feel particularly isolated if people try to protect you from bad news or if you try to put up a strong front. If you and others express emotions honestly, you can all gain strength from each other.

Anticipate possible physical changes

Now — after your cancer diagnosis and before you begin treatment — is the best time to plan for changes. Prepare yourself now so that you'll be better able to cope later.

Ask your doctor what changes you should anticipate. If drugs will cause hair loss, advice from image experts about clothing, makeup, wigs and hairpieces may help you feel more comfortable and attractive. Insurance often helps pay for wigs, prostheses and other adaptive devices.

Members of cancer support groups may be particularly helpful in this area and can provide tips that have helped them and others.

Also consider how treatment will impact your daily activities. Ask your doctor whether you can expect to continue your normal routine. You may need to spend time in the hospital or have frequent medical appointments. If your treatment will require a leave of absence from your normal duties, make arrangements for this.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle

This can improve your energy level. Choose a healthy diet consisting of a variety of foods and get adequate rest in order to help you manage the stress and fatigue of the cancer and its treatment.

Exercise and participating in enjoyable activities also may help. Recent data suggest that people who maintain some physical exercise during treatment not only cope better but may also live longer.

Let friends and family help you

Often friends and family can run errands, provide transportation, prepare meals and help you with household chores. Learn to accept their help. Accepting help gives those who care about you a sense of making a contribution at a difficult time.

Also encourage your family to accept help if it's needed. A cancer diagnosis affects the entire family and adds stress, especially to the primary caregivers. Accepting help with meals or chores from neighbors or friends can go a long way in preventing caregiver burnout.

Aug. 30, 2014 See more In-depth