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  • Kristina Austin, MSEd, LSW

Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis

Despite the many lifesaving advances that have been made in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer being diagnosed with the disease can cause fear and anxiety in most everyone who hears the news. Managing the physical, emotional, spiritual and social impact of a cancer diagnosis is an important aspect of coping while on the journey.

A person diagnosed with cancer can experience anger, fear, anxiety and even depression. It is valid to feel a myriad of emotions. An important aspect of coping with a cancer diagnosis is being able to express those varied emotions in a safe, non-judgmental environment to help develop or enhance coping skills. Sometimes a family member or friend may be able to provide that kind of support. If not, seeking out a professional is a viable and sometimes necessary option. Often close family members or those serving as caregivers may need some help in sorting out their emotions around a loved one’s cancer diagnosis.

Treatment side effects such as fatigue and loss of appetite can leave you feeling drained. Listen to your body and allow it the rest it dictates. For individuals who are accustomed to being very active, it can be challenging when you don’t have the energy to do everything you used to do. Exercise classes specifically geared towards individuals in treatment or post treatment can be a very useful tool in managing physical side effects.

As you go through the cancer experience you will find that your needs change. Perhaps your usual way of coping isn’t working. It can be helpful to seek out the many resources that are available for coping with your own or a loved one’s cancer diagnosis. Perhaps it isn’t counseling that you need but being well informed is what will help you better cope. Dialog with your healthcare team when you don’t understand your options and the information presented to you. For some individuals, faith plays a very important role in coping with a cancer diagnosis. Talking with clergy or spending time in prayer can help to bring about a semblance of peace during a very chaotic time.

In addition to your oncology team, there are a number of resources assist you along your journey. Lodging- Hope Lodge offers cancer patients and their caregivers a free place to stay when their best hope for effective treatment may be in another city. Not having to worry about where to stay or how to pay for lodging allows guests to focus on getting well. Hope Lodge provides a nurturing, home-like environment where guests can retreat to private rooms or connect with others. Every Hope Lodge also offers a variety of resources and information about cancer and how best to fight the disease ( Financial Assistance- CFAC is a coalition of financial assistance organizations joining forces to help cancer patients experience better health and well-being by limiting financial challenges. You can search for specific types of assistance as well as resources available for specific types of cancer ( Support Groups – At Cancer Care, oncology social workers provide free emotional and practical support for people with cancer, caregivers, loved ones and the bereaved (

If you are the family member or friend and you are looking for ways to assist a loved one consider driving him or her to treatments. Pick up some extra groceries and deliver them after your next trip to the market. Mow the lawn, shovel snow, help set up meals or a car pool for the children. If you can, provide that non-judgmental supportive ear that listens and doesn’t give advice.

Whatever your cancer experience may be, recognize that you don’t have to navigate alone. Work with your healthcare team and seek out community resources. Don’t be afraid to ask family and friends for help. Being able to provide assistance and support is an opportunity for them to feel useful. Asking for and accepting help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength and courage as well as self-awareness that some challenges require accessing and utilizing additional resources.

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