Being diagnosed with cancer can be overwhelming, frightening and depressing amongst other things. Both my grandma and grandpa died of cancer. I have often wondered why they got cancer. They didn't smoke, or drink or have contact with harmful chemicals. No one knows why. I guess sometimes it's just impossible to know why things happen the way they do. I struggled with such questions throughout my journey as a caregiver to my grandparents.
Thinking about it today, I realise that knowing "why" wouldn't have changed the course of their illness. But of course it's normal to think about it. I think, continuing to wonder "why" may get in the way of your ability to cope. I think it helps to try to focus on the present and how to best deal with the situation ahead. As a physician and a caregiver, speaking of dealing with a diagnosis of cancer, here's my two cents...or maybe five!
1. Gather information
- Ask your doctor for your exact diagnosis and stage of disease. You can try researching the disease for more information, but I must warn you not to dwell on statistics. Each person is different, and so is every cancer.
- Ask your doctor how much time you have to make a decision and begin treatment.
- Write down your questions and concerns in advance. Go to appointments prepared.
- Be your own health advocate. Become informed about your treatment options. Ask your doctor about the risks and benefits of any given treatment. Ask them if there might be a clinical trial that is right for you.
2. Have a support system in place
- You don't have to face cancer alone. Don't be shy to ask for help. In fact, most friends and family genuinely want to do something to help, so let them.
- If you are experiencing very strong emotional swings, and are concerned about it, ask to be screened or talk to someone about emotional and psychological stress.
- It also helps to bring a family member or friend with you to your appointments to support you, and take charge of the situation in case you get too overwhelmed or confused.
3. Plan ahead
Cancer affects you physically, mentally, and emotionally. It also affects your loved ones. So try to brace yourself and plan for some difficult times ahead.
- It helps to maintain as much of your routine as possible. Try to keep yourself busy to take your mind off of thinking about your cancer.
- The cancer might make you physically weak which would affect your ability to perform your ADLs (Activities of Daily Living). See if you can arrange for someone to help with your chores, maybe a PSW (Personal Support Worker).
- You might have to make certain changes in your house. Like moving the furniture to make the space accessible by wheelchair. Or maybe move your bedroom downstairs if you can't manage climbing upstairs.
Even though we are fortunate enough to have access to universal healthcare, certain expenses need to made out of pocket. Contact a social worker who can help you find out how much of your medications and supportive care will be covered. If you need to stop working, take that into account. If you have a private health insurance, find out what expenses are covered.
5. Practice self-care
- Cancer has the ability to bring out the best and worst in us. Remember to be patient with yourself and your caregivers. Eat well and exercise if and when you can.
- Don't ignore your emotions. Share your thoughts and feelings with others.
- Start a closed group or page on Facebook, or a group on Whatsapp to share your journey with friends and family. This will save you the energy of repeating the same thing over and over, and it can help you stay connected to friends and family who are far away.
- Last but not the least, find at least one positive thing to do, read or watch every day. It could be music, or a motivational book, a walk in the woods, or talking to a friend. Anything that makes you smile and gives you peace.
That being said, the days and weeks after being diagnosed with cancer can be stressful and overwhelming. This video by the Canadian Cancer Society talks about how you may be feeling and suggests some ways to cope during this time.
For most people, a cancer diagnosis changes life in a way that it's never the same again. At in4MED, we can make this stressful time easier by providing you with information about your diagnosis, connecting you to local support systems and being there for you as your trusted health advocates. As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment.
Healthcare Consultant, in4MED
Canadian Cancer Statistics - A 2018 special report on cancer incidence by stage, pg.6
Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-journey/recently-diagnosed/?region=on
The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.
*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.