Advice for the Early Days

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

JANUARY 05, 2017

Senior Black Man Taking Deep BreathLooking back, almost all of us would agree that the first days after diagnosis are psychologically the very hardest. We are catapulted from normal life to crisis in an instant, and most of us experience something close to panic. As I always tell newly diagnosed individuals, it will get better. This is as bad as it gets. I promise. Once all the information has been collected and there is a plan, it is possible to organize one's thoughts and begin to settle in for the duration.

The most important advice is this: Slow down. Breathe. Take one step at a time. If you can't imagine how to get through the day, take it half an hour at a time.

It can be helpful to remember other hard times in life. Who and what helped then? Was it better then for you to take long solo walks or to be surrounded by friends? Are you someone who can't stop eating or someone who can't eat anything in a crisis? (Whichever type you are, it is okay right now to stick with comfort foods. You do have to eat something so think soup or something equally soothing.) Do you want to get into bed and pull up the covers or are you lying awake all night? The point here is to consider how you react in hard times, to recognize the strategies and skills that life has given you, and to do whatever you need. Other peoples' opinions and advice don't matter much, and you have the right to politely say that.

Although there are a few exceptions, a new cancer diagnosis is not usually a medical emergency on the scale of, say, a heart attack or a stroke. You have time to think about your choices, consult with your doctor (s), talk with your family. Don't rush to decisions or to surgery.

This is a helpful blog excerpt from WebMD:

What NOT to Do After a Cancer Diagnosis
By Wendy Baer, MD

When you learn you have cancer, you may feel like someone hit the panic button inside your head and body. Thoughts about what the diagnosis means for you, and your family, may swirl inside your head. Feelings of uncertainty, fear, and frustration may all come up at once.

This panic, or intense stress, can easily cause you to make decisions or engage in behaviors that are not actually very helpful. With that in mind, here are four "don'ts" after a cancer diagnosis:

  • Don't try to go it alone: Yes, you may have managed many things well on your own before. Cancer is different. Trying to go it alone does not work. Everyone needs a team, a support person or two, to help them through cancer. Let people drive you, run errands, sit with you at chemo. People feel better when they help others. You are giving THEM a gift to let them help.
  • Don't ignore the internet completely: Yes, ignore fake news, magic juices, doctors who offer something "no one else has" and cures via ice baths. But there is important information on the internet – and almost always the websites have ".edu" or ".gov" at the end. So, use the internet to find credible information and allow it to help you form a reasonable treatment plan with your medical team – but do it early in the day, not in the evening. No medical research in bed, EVER, and no cancer talk after dinner. Whatever you want to look up will still be there tomorrow, so check it out then. But in the evening, give yourself a break.

Read more WebMD Cancer blog posts here.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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