Advice For People Who Have Recently Been Diagnosed With Cancer

Hearing the words ‘you have cancer’ is something we hope that we, or the people we love, never have to experience. If you have recently been diagnosed with cancer the days that follow can be incredibly overwhelming for you and the people around you.

Angela Wheeler, Colorectal Clinical Nurse Specialist, HCA Healthcare UK, draws on her experience of supporting people who have recently been diagnosed, and shares four pieces of advice for how you can cope during the days ahead. 

Being diagnosed with cancer is an incredibly emotional time, and there is no right or wrong way to feel. You may feel anxious, scared and tearful or you might find yourself in denial about your diagnosis. You may feel all or none of the above. Everybody is different, their individual cancer diagnosis is different and their reactions and experiences of cancer are also different.

Clinical Nurse Specialists, like myself, are usually one of the first people in your cancer care team that you will meet following your diagnosis. At this time, I find that most people are quite anxious about treatment and side-effects and tend to have a lot of questions about their diagnosis and, particularly, their prognosis. It’s normal to have a lot of questions and we are happy to run through these with you.

1. Write things down

So, my first piece of advice is to write things down. If you have questions then get them down on paper and bring them into the appointment with you. It can be a mentally foggy time so by writing things down you can make sure that you get the answers you need. It may also help to bring somebody with you to offer support and to help you remember what you hear and to be able to discuss it with afterwards.

2. It's OK to accept help

Whilst being diagnosed with cancer undeniably has the biggest effect on you, it can also be incredibly difficult for your loved ones, and they will want to support you as much as they can. My second piece of advice is to accept the help that’s offered if you want it. Allowing your friends and family to support you with day-to-day tasks like driving you to appointments, or your children to school, cleaning your house or doing some cooking can make a big difference to you, and your primary care giver, but can also give the people you care about the chance to help you and demonstrate their love and support at this time.

3. Maintain a healthy lifestyle

My third piece of advice is to maintain a healthy lifestyle in terms of food, exercise and proper rest where possible. This is important for several reasons, the first being that it can improve your energy levels. Eating a healthy diet with a variety of foods and getting plenty of rest can also make a big difference when it comes to managing the stress and fatigue of cancer and its treatment. If possible, doing some exercise or physical activity during cancer treatment can help with your mood and therefore how you cope physically and mentally. Getting into these habits before treatment will help you continue with them during the treatment phase. 

4. Talk about your feelings

There’s lots of different types of support and it’s about finding out what’s right for you, at the time that is right for you. Some people find it helps to talk about their feelings with their CNS, or with a counsellor. This can be either on a one-to-one basis, or with their partner or friend, or in a group setting with other people affected by cancer. Some people find it helps to speak with somebody they aren’t close with, so you can share your true feelings without fear of upsetting them.

There are multiple ways to talk about your feelings and you don’t just need to try one, you can test and see what works best for you, perhaps it’s a combination.

It may take days, weeks, or even months for your cancer diagnosis to truly sink in and the way you feel about your cancer diagnosis is likely to change over time. Sometimes it may change weekly or daily depending on multiple factors, but there is lots of support available to you throughout your diagnosis, treatment and beyond. Be kind to yourself. Being diagnosed with cancer is a highly emotional and challenging time. There will be bad days, there will be better days, but you are not alone.

At HCA Healthcare UK we have a team of cancer experts who can provide you with the support that is right for you, including help with diet, physical therapy or emotional support. They’ll work with you to put a plan in place that suits your individual needs.