Three Things Everyone Needs to Know When First Diagnosed with Cancer

The shock of being diagnosed with cancer makes your head spin. That’s completely normal. It throws you into a world that is so foreign and unwanted. It’s hard to know where to start or what is important to know. Read on, and start with these three steps:  

1. One Step at a Time, One Day at a Time

It seems like there are a million things that need to be researched and organized – a million questions that need to be asked and answered. But stop.  Slow down. Take a deep breath. 

Not everything needs to be addressed all at once. I often see people getting lost in the weeds of cancer. Some focus intensely on minor questions or details that they deem critical, but then they end up missing the big picture points that are actually critical for moving forward. Focus on one main task or problem at a time.

When I was diagnosed, this meant:

Day 1: Get an ultrasound organized

Day 2: Meet with the gynecologist

Day 3: Get a CT scan organized 

Cancer is a war – not a single battle. Plan your attack accordingly.

2. Get Your Life in Order

There’s no denying that a cancer diagnosis puts your mortality front and center. Prepare for the unthinkable… because none of us know what the future holds. Obviously, if you don’t have a will, now is the time to get one in place. But you need to go one step further. Completing an Advanced Care Directive (Living Will) before you begin any type of treatment will offer clarity to your family and friends in the unfortunate event that your health deteriorates further. Many hospitals and health regions offer free resources and forms. For the Saskatchewan Health Region, visit here: Advanced Care Directive.

You also need to organize your communication. Having a clear path of communication to your friends and family will simplify your life. You can’t spend your time emailing, texting, and phoning with every update, so organize a way to quickly communicate. This might mean having a friend or family member act as a ‘point person’ to field questions. You provide information to one person, and they circulate that information to the rest. Additionally, there are so many options here – blogs, private/public Facebook groups, What’s App groups. Pick the best fit for you. For me, this meant setting up a shared photo gallery that friends and family could access to see pictures of me post-surgery and during treatment. For me, showing people that I was recovering (instead of them just hearing) really put their minds at ease.  

Whatever way you decide, be sure to put your own privacy and boundaries first. You’ll find that well-intentioned people will ask for your time and energy… but these are finite resources now. People may be insistent, but don’t be afraid to decline phone calls or redirect people back to your point person for updates and information.

3. Be Persistent but Polite

You have to be your own advocate. Listen to the voice inside of you, and follow through if something is really nagging at you. No questions are dumb questions. You aren’t wasting anyone’s time. When it comes to your health, you are the only one that has to live with the consequences of what is happening to your body so make sure you are satisfied with both the answers and care you are receiving.  

Now, this doesn’t mean you need to be demanding or short with people. I like to say, “Be persistent but polite.” Just like in every other area of life, being rude doesn’t often make people want to go the extra mile for you. Health care is no different. You will get further if you reinforce your concerns in a polite and persistent manner, rather than making demands.  

When you’re thrown into the world of cancer, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Start with these three steps, and you will be on a path that supports the clarity and calmness that you will need to fight the big ‘C.’

Photo Credit -Nancy Newby Photography

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