Six Things to Do When You Learn You Have Cancer

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By Nancy Borstelmann, LICSW, MPH

A cancer diagnosis can put even the most organized person into a state of disarray. That’s not surprising, because it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and out of control in the face of such stress. But there are steps you can take to ensure you’re best prepared for the road ahead. Don’t forget to:

  1. Slow down and give yourself a chance to cope. Set aside time for yourself and your loved ones. It’s easy to feel isolated when you put up a strong front, so keep the lines of communication open with your family, friends, and doctors. Try to gain strength from one another by expressing your emotions honestly and openly.
  2. Learn what services and programs are available. Many patients don’t take full advantage of support and resources simply because they haven’t had a chance to learn what’s out there. The National Cancer Institute offers advice for finding support resources in the general community. At Dana-Farber, patients and their loved ones can leaf through their patient handbook or talk with a concierge in the Shapiro Center for Patients and Families to learn about available programs (they can also call a concierge at 617-632-3750).
  3. Accept help from others. Make a list of ways that friends and family can help, and suggest specific tasks. Friends or family members who assist with the day-to-day challenges of living with cancer can review the helpful advice and tips in Dana-Farber’s downloadable caregiver booklets.
  4. Beth Overmoyer with patientLearn more about your cancer. Gather basic information about your diagnosis, to the extent that you feel comfortable. Take notes when your doctor or nurse explains something, or ask a loved one to do so. If you have questions before an appointment, write them down and ask them when you meet with your cancer care team. At Dana-Farber, you can research more about a cancer diagnosis with help from a trained volunteer or staff member in the Eleanor and Maxwell Blum Patient and Family Resource Center.
  5. Step back and think about how you are coping. Everyone reacts to a cancer diagnosis in his or her own way, so it may help to turn to strategies that have helped you manage and reduce stress in the past. Ideas to consider: Practice relaxation techniques or attend a yoga class (both available through Dana-Farber’s Zakim Center). Rely on your preferred spiritual support. Start (or continue) an exercise routine. At most cancer centers, you can let your doctor or nurse know if you are feeling particularly stressed and they can help you make an appointment with one of our social workers.
  6.  Connect with others in your situation. Talking with someone who has previously dealt with cancer can be a great help. Dana-Farber’s One-to-One program links trained volunteer cancer survivors with those who are facing it for the first time. Similarly, CancerConnect offers an online forum where patients and family members can connect with cancer patients, doctors, survivors, family members, and friends for advice, support, and guidance.

3 Comments:

  1. I have been fighting stage 3 b breast cancer for a year now. Now we are inundated with huge medical bills like $15,000 we cannot afford, what can I do ? All the bills are in my. Name and I am ill and have no income ? It is very very stressful.

    • Dear Jan –

      We are so sorry to hear about your health trouble and financial stress. You may be able to find some helpful information on this site, which includes tips on speaking to insurance providers.

      It also may be helpful to reach out to social workers or other representatives at your hospital/physician’s office to see if they can recommend a financial counselor you can speak with.

      I hope this is helpful and wish you all the best.

  2. Dear Jan,I’m so sorry to hear about your Brest cancer. I have been living with terminal carcinoid cancer for 8yrs. It’s a good thing now since I was suppose to be dead 5+yrs ago. But I totally understand your situation. I get an injection every month and have for the last 8+yrs. my insurance covered it for the last 7 yrs but now are not. I have 10k in bills now. But I also can’t have my injections either, since I can’t afford them. This drug is what has kept me alive and now they are taking it away from me. I was told that Dana Farber has financial help. Patient advocate can probably point you in the right direction. I would check online for sites too. I’m sure there are organizations that help when it comes to medical bills.I know it’s hard not to worry, but stress is the worst on your cancer. I wish you the very best. Sending prays your way

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