Tips to help you cope with a cancer diagnosis

Cancer can be the toughest thing you’ll ever have to face. Mary J. recalls how she felt when she received her breast cancer diagnosis ten years ago. “There was this awful sinking feeling, and then everything began to feel a little surreal.”

But Mary was wise enough to quickly involve her husband, Rick, in her care. By seeking his support, taking an active role in her own treatment, and learning all that she could about her type of cancer and her options, she was able to channel the energy away from her anxiety and move forward. “Once I got through the initial shock of my diagnosis, I knew it was important to take control,” she says.

Here are some tips for taking charge of your cancer care. 

Rally your team

Involving family and friends, as Mary did, can help ensure that you don’t miss key information about your diagnosis and treatment when you’re stressed and not thinking clearly. Rick went with Mary to her doctor’s appointments and took notes so she could reference them later. Involving your friends and family can also give you much-needed emotional support.

Learn what’s ahead

Skip reading the frightening tales on the Internet and talk with your doctor about your chances of survival so you get the facts you need about your future.
Because of new knowledge and improved treatments, survival rates for cancer have increased rapidly in recent years. Today there are nearly 14 million cancer survivors in the United States. Most (64%) were diagnosed five or more years ago and nearly half (45%) are 70 years of age or older. Over the next decade, experts say, the number of cancer survivors will increase to almost 18 million.1

Take charge of your treatment plan

Participate actively in the treatment process. That means getting a second opinion about your pathology results and your treatment options, which may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or other procedures. You want to be sure that you stay in control and have the information you need to make good decisions.

Seek support from survivors

You’re not alone in this. So, in addition to involving friends and family, don’t be afraid to seek out people who have been through a similar experience for information and emotional support. Your doctor may be able to connect you with a support group in the hospital or your community. There are also numerous online survivor forums and blogs where you can chat with others or leave messages. But remember that although these groups can be a helpful resource, you should always verify any “facts” they may offer about your treatment choices with your doctor.

Give yourself a break

While it’s best to try to get back to your usual routine as soon as you can after your diagnosis, there’s no harm in taking a little time to adjust before you ease back into your regular activities. After your treatment begins, you may want to try activities such as tai chi, meditation, or yoga to help manage nausea, fatigue, and anxiety. These complementary therapies can help reduce stress and help you sleep better—which is critical when you’re in recovery. Beware of any alternative or complementary therapies that seem to promise too much, and talk to your doctor to make sure that what you plan to do won’t interfere with your cancer treatment.

For more information on coping with a cancer diagnosis, visit the website of the National Cancer Institute at or visit the American Cancer Society at

1. American Cancer Society, “Navigating the Cancer Experience: Diagnosis and Treatment,” January 2012,


National Cancer Institute, “Coping with Cancer,” accessed January 14, 2014,

American Cancer Society, “Complementary and Alternative Methods for Cancer Management,” accessed January 14, 2014,

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