Patients and Caregivers Share Tips for Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis

“Every day beyond day one gets easier.”

Loading the player...

The big C: A cancer diagnosis can be so overwhelming that it may be hard to say the full word. It may come with intense feelings of fear, despair, and even guilt or shame in knowing that you’ll need to lean on loved ones for support. You might not want to feel like a burden. With all these emotions, it’s important to have coping tips after a cancer diagnosis.

There are some ways of coping with the news that may be healthier and more helpful, like therapy and support groups. However, it can also lead to unhelpful ones, like substance misuse and isolating yourself from others. Finding healthy ways to cope with your cancer diagnosis is key to your recovery and general well-being.

What are coping tips to help me after my cancer diagnosis?

Cancer not only upends your “normal life.” It also requires a whole new routine — from your treatment regimen and doctor appointments. It may be hard to know where to start.

The stress might affect your sleep patterns, your focus, and how you communicate in your relationships. All of these declines could even work against your immune response to your treatment. In other words, having coping strategies after a cancer diagnosis might affect your overall treatment outcomes.

These top 10 tips for coping with a cancer diagnosis address the distress that affects your mind, body, and soul.

  1. Proactively relieve stress: Try yoga, meditation, light exercise, and/or playing music you love.
  2. Find support groups: No one knows better about what you’re going through than others living with cancer.
  3. See a therapist: While support groups can be empathetic and cathartic, one-on-one care can also help make sure you’re getting the individualized treatment you need and deserve.
  4. Ask your oncologist lots of questions: Knowledge is power, and there is no question too big or small that can help you cope with symptoms and emotions.
  5. Organize your medical records: The last thing you want to think about on weaker days is where that last hospital bill or lab test is being kept. Check out these tips for organizing your medical records.
  6. Journal and honor your feelings: Whether you like to write or record voice notes, releasing how you feel can keep the big emotions from eating at you from the inside out.
  7. Avoid blaming anyone, especially yourself: It might feel validating in the moment, but it won’t bolster your stamina in the long run.
  8. Reach out to others: Despite what your anxiety might tell you, they want to help but may not know how. Share your boundaries and think of specific ways that they can show up for you. Most likely, they’ll be glad to be of service.
  9. Feel your feelings: You don’t have to stay positive 24/7. Letting yourself sit in your emotions, cry, or scream can actually help the feeling pass.
  10. Take it one day at a time: This is a marathon, not a sprint — and it’s your life. Look for moments of gratitude, and savor them.

How have others coped with their diagnosis?

Be specific about how your loved ones can help you

“It’s okay to need space, even when you have a lot of people offering their support, and they want to help you. Take the time that you need, and then when you’re ready, just be very specific about the things that you need and the ways that people can help you.”

— Aisha Patterson, diagnosed with stage II breast cancer

Your reaction to your diagnosis can be a gift

“My doctor called me with the results, and told me that I had lung cancer, as a non-smoker at 30 years old. And in that moment, I was just shocked — like, how? Why? What do I do now? Cancer is not a gift, but your reaction to your cancer diagnosis can be.”

— Erik Hale, diagnosed with stage IIIA, then IIIB lung cancer

Taking action and raising awareness can help you feel empowered

“Why did this happen? What did I do wrong? There’s a lot of fear, there’s a lot of anxiety, not knowing what’s ahead, what it will feel like, what you’re going to go through. Day one is the absolute hardest. Every day beyond day one gets easier. I feel a lot of comfort having some sort of action to take, to be an activist, to try and raise awareness. ”

— Lexi Mestas, diagnosed with ovarian cancer

Believe you’re going to survive—and celebrate the small wins

“With a cancer diagnosis, your whole world gets tossed upside down… You have to believe that you’re going to survive, whether you go on chemo for life, or you actually get to that goal of no evidence of disease at this time, or remission. You actually have to have a plan [and] be able to figure out what your ‘new normal’ is.”

— Howard Brown, diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stage III colon cancer, then stage IV colon cancer

Use your experience to help others

“Life is precious, and if there’s anything that’s going to remind you of that, it’s something like a cancer diagnosis. So whether I like it or not, I’m [on] this journey. So why not make the best of it, why not find the silver linings, why not use my experience to help others as well? I mean, that to me just fills me with inspiration and excitement. ”

— Bethany Webb, diagnosed with stage II, then stage IV breast cancer

For caregivers, approach acceptance one step at a time

“I chose to grab the handle of faith instead of the handle of fear. That’s what worked for me. That’s what allowed me to cross that bridge of acceptance. The bridge of acceptance is an extremely difficult bridge to cross. I completely empathize with how hard it is. But if you can cross that bridge of acceptance, it’s amazing how you will be able to cope.”

— Stephen Pecevich, father of a brain cancer survivor

Want to hear from more survivors? Learn from Roshni Kamta about how she handled her anxiety during treatment for breast cancer at 22.