"When I heard the word 'cancer,' I couldn't believe it. Part of me was terrified, but another part was in denial. How could this happen to me? I just didn't want to deal with having cancer, didn't want to put my family through all of it. It took a while to accept what was happening. One thing that helped was having my doctor walk me through my options. It made me feel a little more in control to know I had choices."—Tomas, 75
A cancer diagnosis can change your life. You may feel like your world has turned upside down and you have lost all control. Some people feel angry, sad, scared, powerless, or stunned. Everyone reacts differently. And your feelings may change often, without warning.
Making decisions about your care and facing cancer treatment can be overwhelming. You may feel like things are happening so quickly that you don't have time to deal with your feelings.
It's okay to take time to deal with your reaction to having cancer. You may want to spend that time with loved ones, or you may need some time to yourself.
Questions to ask
Think about taking a family member or friend with you when you go to your doctor appointments. When you're distressed, it's much harder to take in important information. It can feel like more than you can handle. But having another person there to listen, take notes, and support you can make it a little easier. Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor:
What do I need to know about my cancer?
What are my treatment options?
How soon do I need to make a decision about treatment?
Where can I get more information about my type of cancer?
It's important to remember that you're not in this alone. Your medical team can help you understand your diagnosis and what to expect. And your family and friends can help support you through the process.
Getting help and support
Now is an important time to lean on friends and family. It's not always easy to ask for help, especially if you're used to taking care of others and doing everything for yourself. But remember that the people around you want to support you, and asking for help isn't a sign of weakness. Think about the types of help you want. You may need:
Someone who can listen to your worries and fears.
Help with errands or picking up kids.
Meals and groceries delivered to your home.
Rides to and from appointments.
Cancer support groups offer support and practical advice. In a cancer support group, you can hear others talk about:
What it is like to have cancer.
What new treatments are available.
Practical ways to manage your cancer treatment and its side effects.
Ways to cope with your illness.
Facing cancer may cause you to confront your own spiritual questions and issues. You may ask yourself why this happened to you.
Look for activities that bring you comfort, whether that is spending time outdoors, being with children, going to church, or anything else. You may find help by surrounding yourself with people who love you. Any option that brings you peace is a good option.
You and your loved ones
Cancer affects you and your whole family. Just as you may have a wide range of feelings about your cancer diagnosis, your family members may react in different ways. Anger, sadness, and fear are common.
Cancer often causes role changes in the family. When family members take on new roles, the way they interact within the family can change. New responsibilities can be hard to adjust to. If you know the types of changes that may happen, you can prepare for them. Here are some possible changes:
The head of the household may become more dependent on other family members. Parents may look to their children for support.
Others may need to work outside the home or work different hours to deal with the changing needs of the household.
Young children may suddenly begin to act younger in response to the stress on the family. This is their way of dealing with cancer and how it has changed their family.
Some teens may rebel and spend more time away from home. Others may become very dutiful and take on adult roles in the family.
Older children may be asked to take on more responsibilities within the household. These requests often come when the children themselves need support.
And sometimes family members are in their own process of denial. They don't want to talk about your cancer because it's scary for them. But it's important for you to find people you can talk to about your hopes and fears, so you may have to look outside of your family for such people.
Finding strength and hope
All of this is overwhelming, but the most important thing is to have hope. Cancer treatments today are better than ever, and many people survive cancer and go on to live long and happy lives.
Look for reasons to have hope. Try to spend time every day doing something that gives you hope, such as praying or meditation, spending time with people you love, or attending a support group.
Where to learn more
The following booklets from the National Cancer Institute's website may be helpful:
Taking Time: Support for People With Cancer (www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/takingtime)
When Someone You Love Is Being Treated for Cancer (www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/when-someone-you-love-is-treated)
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.