Coping with a cancer diagnosis is a difficult and personal process. In addition to physical changes, receiving a cancer diagnosis can cause emotional, psychological, spiritual, financial, and social upheaval. It may help to remember more than nine million cancer survivors are alive today in the United States who live healthy, productive lives. Also, because of research performed at National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Centers like Huntsman Cancer Institute, the disease is more survivable than ever.
Take Part in Your Health Care
Your care will involve a team of specialists committed to you having the most positive experience possible. Communicate with your doctor or nurse if you have questions or concerns about your diagnosis, treatment, or how cancer will impact your daily life.
Emotional and Physical Changes
Shock, anger, denial, fear, despair—these and many other emotions are common, normal responses to a cancer diagnosis, for both patients and their families. It can help to understand that your emotions will come and go. There will be bad days and good days.
There is no right or wrong way to feel. When you first hear the news from your doctor, you may go into shock and be unsure what the doctor really said. Be gentle with yourself as you experience the feelings that come from a cancer diagnosis. As you learn to cope with your disease, don't worry about appearing happy or cheerful if that's not how you feel.
You will probably feel a range of emotions during your cancer experience. You may have had these feelings at other times in your life, too, but they may be more intense now. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to feel, nor is there a right or wrong way to react to your feelings. Ask for help when you need it and explain to your loved ones about what is most important to you.
Talk to your family members about your feelings. This will make it easier to help each other through a difficult time. If you prefer, talk to your doctor, nurse, clergy person, or a Patient and Family Support social worker. Patients and caregivers often find support groups helpful. Choose the way of sharing that works for you.
View our interactive Distress Screening Tool, which has links to resouces that can help patients and their families deal with the emotional and physical impact of cancer.
Impact on Family and Friends
Your diagnosis may affect your relationships with family and friends. It is important to speak honestly with your family and friends, and to know that your loved ones are there and ready for you when you need them.
Telling your family: Choose your own time, place, and words for sharing the news of your cancer diagnosis. Your family may express a wide range of reactions to your diagnosis. Let your family know they can be honest and open with you about their feelings and that you will be honest and open with them as well. Family members may vent feelings of anger or frustration; keep in mind the true target of any negative feelings is the cancer, not you, and that everyone has his or her own way of coping. Openly discussing these issues will lead to increased respect and understanding.
Telling your children: Children often mirror the reactions of adults in the family, so you may choose to wait until you have gotten through your initial emotions before telling your children about your diagnosis. However, keep in mind that children will sense something is wrong or someone outside the home could say something, so it's not wise to withhold information from them for long, even if you believe this is protecting them. Ultimately, when you speak honestly and openly with your children you are demonstrating that your family can work together to cope with stressful times.
In a two-parent family, both parents should be there to tell the children. Single parents may want a friend or relative present when they break the news. Give the children accurate information in words they can understand, and tailor the amount of information to the child's ability to understand. Talk about changes to family routines and assure the children they will be cared for. Make sure they understand how long treatment will last and prepare them for side effects such as hair loss, fatigue, and nausea. Let them ask questions and answer honestly.
Every child will react differently. Try to get your child to talk about his or her feelings if you see changes in their behavior or personality. Read more in our factsheet Helping Kids Cope: A Guide for Parents.
Telling your friends: How much information you share with members of your social group is a very personal choice. Your friends may express a wide range of reactions to your diagnosis and treatment. Some may avoid you, unsure of what to say or do. Others may become overly protective and considerate. Provide them whatever information you feel comfortable with, which may include your type and stage of cancer, its treatments, your feelings, and what they can do to help you.
Telling your employer: When, how, and how much you tell your employer is a personal decision. Before you talk to your employer, find out from your health care team how your treatment and recovery will impact your job, including whether you will need to take time off. If you anticipate problems, consult your social worker and review the following federal laws, which are in place to protect your rights:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): This law can protect you when seeking a new job. You cannot be forced to take a medical exam before being hired. After hiring, the employer can only ask medical questions relevant to your ability to perform duties on the job.
- Family and Medical Leave Act: This law may require your employer to grant you up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave if your cancer treatments make you unable to work your regular schedule or unable to work at all.
Most employers will try to work around your treatments. It's a good idea to keep a record of talks with your employer and benefits personnel and to keep copies of performance reviews, memos, and letters regarding your employment. Get legal advice if you feel you are treated unfairly in the workplace.
Create an Online Sharing Community and Caregiver Help Calendar
Lotsa Helping Hands offers free tools designed to make life easier for caregivers and volunteers. The hallmark of the service is the caregiver-focused Help Calendar, which enables members to schedule and sign up for tasks that provide respite for the caregiver including meals for the family, rides to medical appointments, and visits. Members can also communicate with one another through message boards, post personal blogs, share photos, and send well wishes to the family. And Coordinators can safely store and retrieve vital information for the family – from medical and health records to financial and legal documents. Caregivers benefit from the gifts of much needed help, emotional support, and peace of mind, while volunteers find meaning in giving back to those in need. Learn more or create a community for someone you love today: http://mycancercircle.lotsahelpinghands.com/caregiving/home/
Support Available at Huntsman Cancer Institute
There are several places you can go for support:
- Our Patient and Family Support Services offer emotional support and resources for coping with cancer and its impact on daily life to HCI patients and their families.
- The Linda B. and Robert B. Wiggins Wellness-Survivorship Center offers many programs to increase the quality of life and well-being of HCI patients and their families.