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Cancer Education

Dealing with a Cancer Diagnosis

Learning that you or someone you love has cancer can turn your world upside down. Everything may suddenly seem out of your control. You may wonder why this happened to you and how you'll get through it. With support from your family and friends, as well as your care team, you can feel more in control as you begin your journey.

Your care team will help you find the answers to your questions and connect you with resources that can ease the stress you feel. Keep in mind that the prognosis of many cancers continues to improve, and the chance of being cured continues to increase. Remaining hopeful, understanding your condition and playing an active role in the decisions that affect your care are the best places to start.

Learn about your condition

Understanding your diagnosis, disease and treatment plan will help you in many ways. Arming yourself with information will decrease your frustration and help you make decisions that are best for you. Do not hesitate to ask questions about your disease, and take advantage of resources your care team shares with you.

You may wish to keep a notebook or folder that contains your medical records, information about your diagnosis and notes from your providers. It's not unusual to feel numb or too upset while at the hospital or doctor's office, especially early in your journey. Keeping your records handy will refresh your memory and help you stay informed. It may also help to bring a family member or trusted friend to your appointments to listen and take notes.

Following are other tips to help you cope:

Keep a journal

In addition to your medical records, you may wish to keep a journal of your feelings and the impact your journey has on your life. As time goes on, you may be able to look back and see the progress you've made.

Learn about your health insurance benefits

Wondering about your insurance coverage or being surprised by an unexpected charge is far too stressful. Take control by learning about your coverage. Our financial counselors will work with you to review your insurance benefits and deductibles before your treatment begins. They will identify potential financial challenges related to your care and help you identify resources that may assist you in covering certain expenses, such as medication.

Take care of yourself and your relationships

Although your primary focus is on the cancer, it's important to also spend time as you normally would with your family and friends. Having fun and connecting emotionally with the people you love is healthy for the body and the mind. Relieving stress and strengthening close relationships will allow you to cope better with your disease.

Another way to focus on your well-being is to keep part of your regular routine in place. You will still have things that need to be done, like grocery shopping, laundry and going through the mail. Doing some of these daily or weekly activities can help you cope and feel more in control. For the parts of your routine that you do give up, let your friends and family help. They are very likely to ask you what they can do, so take them up on their offer, and ask them to run errands or help you in the kitchen.

Take advantage of support groups and other resources

Find out about all of the supportive services available to you. This includes the social workers on your care team as well as different types of support groups. Many people find great benefits in joining a group with others who are going through a similar experience. You may learn about resources you weren't aware of, you may make new friends and you may be able to help someone cope better with their condition by sharing your story.

Avoid emotionally draining situations

Sometimes, well-meaning friends and family members will say the worst possible thing. They want to help or be supportive, but many can't find the best way to express that. Keep in mind that people will not know what you need or what you're feeling unless you tell them. Sometimes it is easier to be forthright and say, "I would just like you to sit quietly with me and keep me company," or, "I need to spend some time alone right now." Don't be afraid to express your needs.

Other people may want to talk to you about their own experiences with cancer. They may believe they are being helpful, but instead this could make your situation feel even more overwhelming. It's important for you to avoid these discussions if they are not helping you. It can be healthy to let people know what you need and don't need.

Helping children cope with cancer

The following is a list of suggestions for patients, parents and siblings that may help each individual cope with his or her emotions, depending on the age of the child with cancer and the age of the siblings:

  • If the child is a patient:

    • Maintain as much of their regular schedule for eating and sleeping as possible.
    • When they are stressed or sad, try touching, holding and cuddling with them.
    • See how they respond to soft music and favorite toys.
    • Create a cheerful hospital room. If allowed, bring items from home, such as a blanket.
    • Be sure to have siblings and other close family members visit.

    If the child is a sibling of someone with cancer:

    • Keep them near their parents and other family members on a regular basis.
    • Arrange visits to the hospital to see their ill brother or sister.
    • Hug and cuddle with them frequently.
    • Record messages for them to hear when they cannot be with their parents or sibling.
    • Have family and close friends help them keep their daily routines.
  • If the child is the patient:

    • Give them simple and repeated explanations for what is happening.
    • Provide comfort when they are upset or fearful.
    • Offer them choices whenever possible to help them feel some control.
    • Teach them how they can express their anger.
    • Maintain their normal daily schedule for feeding and sleeping.

    If the child is a sibling of someone with cancer:

    • Give them a simple explanation that their brother or sister is sick and that people are helping.
    • Offer comfort and reassurance about their parent's sadness or absence.
    • Arrange for reliable daily care and maintenance of usual routines.
    • Have one parent spend time with them each day, if possible.
    • Remain alert to changes in their behavior.
  • If the child is the patient:

    • Offer repeated reassurance that they are not responsible for the cancer.
    • Give them explanations they can understand about their condition and include them in discussions when possible.
    • Answer their questions honestly, and talk to the care team about how to answer questions about their prognosis.
    • Teach them that sadness, anger and guilt are normal, and let them keep their feelings private, if they wish.
    • Suggest they write or draw to document how they feel.
    • Arrange for regular physical activity, when possible.
    • Have them spend time talking to siblings and friends, if they wish. They may also benefit from talking to other children who have had cancer.

    If the child is a sibling of someone with cancer:

    • Teach them that it's normal to feel afraid, anxious, sad or angry. And encourage them to share their feelings verbally or in other ways.
    • Give them information they can understand about the diagnosis and treatment.
    • Answer their questions honestly.
    • Offer repeated reassurance that their sibling is not responsible for causing the cancer.
    • Inform teachers and coaches of the situation.
    • Maintain a daily schedule, including school and other activities.
    • Support them when they have fun and teach them that it's OK.
    • Have them spend time daily with one parent whenever possible.
  • If the child is the patient:

    • Teach them that it's normal to feel afraid, anxious, sad or angry.
    • Encourage them to share their feelings verbally or in other ways, such as keeping a journal. And allow them to keep their feelings private, if they wish.
    • Give them repeated reassurance that they are not responsible for causing the cancer.
    • Include them in discussions with family about their diagnosis and treatment.
    • Encourage them to ask questions, even the hard ones.
    • Let them have private interactions with their care team.
    • Ensure they know their family will manage this crisis.
    • Arrange for visits from their siblings and friends, and encourage them to share their experiences.

    For siblings of someone with cancer:

    • Involve them in the events around their sibling's diagnosis, and explain what it means and how it will be treated.
    • Offer assurance that nothing they did or said caused the cancer.
    • Answer their questions honestly, and let them speak with the care team if they wish.
    • Encourage them to express their feelings in some way.
    • Help them maintain their daily routines, and encourage them to spend time with family  members.
    • Inform their teachers and coaches of the situation.

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