How to Handle a Cancer Diagnosis

You may have an illness — but you’re still you

Hug for support

By: Mikkael Sekeres, MD, MS

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You’ve just been diagnosed with cancer and your world’s turned upside down. You’re scared and overwhelmed. Suddenly your new identity is … cancer patient.

That’s not true. You’re still you.

Don’t let cancer define you. You are not the disease. It’s so easy to define yourself as a cancer patient instead of remembering who you are and what your goals are. You’re the same person you always were.

To help you retain your sense of self, it’s important to keep doing the same things you’re accustomed to doing.

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For example, if you exercise, continue to do so. If you’re the sort who works out on a treadmill or a bicycle every single day, keep doing it — or you’re going to go nuts if you can’t keep up the exercise regimen you’re used to. Check with your doctor first to make sure exercise is OK within the context of your cancer.

If you’re used to going out to dinner with friends or your spouse, keep doing it, again checking with your doctor first.

Here are a few other steps that will help you make the transition and get a sense of control after a cancer diagnosis:

First, get a second opinion. Some cancers have to be treated immediately. But many don’t, which gives you more time to think about treatment options. Go to specialists for your particular form of cancer, and find the absolute best therapy for you.

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Don’t be shy about asking for help. Have a friend or family member go with you to the doctor’s office. Some people say, “When I go to the doctor my mind goes absolutely blank.” An extra brain and extra set of ears will help you hear what is going on — and process the information afterward.

Keep up with routine maintenance. Along with seeing your oncologist, continue to go to your primary care physician for routine cancer screening. Your body has already proven it can get cancer, so remember to keep screening for cancer after you’ve beaten the one you already have.

And do your best to try to be the person you’ve always been. You’re much, much more than an illness.

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