Like all things in life, each person handles difficult news in their own way. Receiving news that you have cancer and that you need treatment is not easy. While some might experience shock and disbelief, others might feel fear and anxiety. While you are told by your doctor that all these feeling are normal, it takes each person time to adjust to the situation. There are different emotions a person might feel during the following stages:
- Learning the diagnosis
- Coping with the changes
- Sharing news with others
- Asking for help
Learning the diagnosis
Many people feel they are not able to think clearly and may not understand or remember important information that the doctor gives them about the treatment options. You should have a way to go access this information later. Sometimes it helps to have someone with you at appointments. You could also bring a tape recorder to record the conversation, or make a second appointment to ask the doctor questions and go over the treatment plan.
People may begin to feel hopeful as they receive and understand more information about cancer and their treatment options. Over time, by using ways to cope that have worked in the past for others, people usually adjust to the idea that they have cancer.
Coping with the changes
Coping is the use of thoughts and behaviour to adjust to situations. Therefore each person’s coping skills are closely linked to their personality traits. It is however widely considered that irrespective of differences in personalities, people find it easier to adjust to stress when they continue with the normal routines to the best of their abilities. Continuing with work and doing the activities that are important to them helps keep the mind focussed and in turn helps reduce stress caused by the treatment process.
Being physically fit is essential for a healthy lifestyle and more so when one has to undergo a physically and emotionally stressful process like cancer treatment. It might help to continue with any physical exercises you have been doing in the past. Changes might have to be made depending on the side effects of treatment but it is important that you undertake some form of exercise on a regular basis. While some prefer exercises like walking other might prefer yoga. Undertaking some form of meditation could also help supplement exercise. A physically and mentally stronger body is more capable of handling stress than a weak one.
Sharing the news with others
Before you talk to others about your illness, think through your own feelings, your reasons for telling them, and what you expect of them. People react differently to upsetting news, so try to be ready for this. Many times people don’t know what to say, and this makes them feel awkward and uncomfortable. They also may feel sad or be afraid of upsetting you. They may withdraw or distance themselves but not explain that it’s because they feel sad.
Once people have had time to adjust to the news, try to help them understand what’s happening with you. Explain what kind of cancer you have and the treatments you’ll need. Give them a clear and honest picture of what your life is like right now. Tell them that cancer is not a death sentence and they cannot “catch it” from you. Find out what they think and how they feel. Try to answer their questions. Be direct with others and express your needs and feelings openly. It’s usually more stressful to hide emotions than to express them. Sharing can be helpful both to you and to those close to you.