We all remember the first moments. Some of us know exactly the date and time of day that we heard the diagnosis; all of us know the feelings. For me, in 1993, it was being told: "Your doctor can see you now" and walking into a small conference room in the surgical suites (this was immediately after the biopsy and a frozen section), and seeing the black and white striped shirt on my husband's back. That is my strongest memory: his back. If he were there, I knew what the news would be.
The next moments and hours and days are likely a bit more of a blur in our memories. Again, we remember the feelings: the terror and the grief and the anger and the sense of being so overwhelmed. There have been a number of things written over the years to help people gain a bit of control in the early days. Some are better than others, and it all comes down to this: This first period is as bad as it gets emotionally. Once all the information is in, and once there is a plan, things improve. Please do not misunderstand: I surely am not suggesting that anyone is delighted to learn the details of planned chemotherapy etc., but at least then there is something to work with. And beginning to think concretely about plans and managing helps us begin to feel a tiny bit more in control.
This is an essay from CNN by Dr. Peter Edestein about what to do when first blindsided by cancer. I think his suggestions are good ones, although I am not too happy with the second that begins: "Own your cancer." I know what he means, but the phrasing could be better. One of my thoughts about the language of cancer is that it can be helpful not to own the cancer, not to think about it as "my cancer." Yes, of course, it is yours, at least it is inside your body, but you are so much more than those cells, and thinking of it as "the cancer" can give you a bit of perspective. Small quibble, I know.
Anyway, here is the start and a link to read more:
Blindsided by cancer: 5 things to do
By Dr. Peter Edelstein ,
Editor's note: A dedicated cancer patient advocate, Dr. Peter Edelstein is a double-board certified surgeon partnering with cancer patients and their loved ones. He is author of the new book "Own Your Cancer: A TakeCharge Guide for the Recently Diagnosed and Those Who Love Them."
(CNN) -- No one is ever truly prepared to hear, "You have cancer" -- three little words that, despite impressive advances in treatment, immediately conjure up frightening images of hair loss, chronic nausea, surgery and even death. But hearing "the C-word" is even more overwhelming when it is entirely unexpected, spoken to a seemingly healthy person.
The unanticipated lesion on your mammogram. The unsuspected tumor on your routine colonoscopy. The surprise prostate nodule on your physical exam.
And it may become more common: The American Society of Clinical Oncologists predicted in a report released Tuesday that cancer will become the leading cause of death in the United States in 16 years, surpassing heart disease. For thousands of "healthy" individuals each year, the fears engendered by those three little words are accompanied by a horribly powerful shock.
So what do you do first when blindsided by cancer? Here, in order, are four initial actions and one inaction that will help you remain oriented and in control of your life.