If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, it can feel overwhelming at first. Here are six first steps you can take after being told you have cancer...
As well as the initial shock of a cancer diagnosis, there’s so much to think about. From talking to friends and family, to what your treatment will involve, what to do about work and finances, and how it might affect your relationships, you’re likely to have a lot of different questions.
But with some practical planning and the right support, you can help to make things feel less daunting and more manageable.
1) Find out what support is available
Finding out where to get help can make you feel more informed and in control. There are a number of organisations offering advisory and support services for people with cancer.
Macmillan Cancer Support is an information and support service catering for all aspects of cancer and cancer treatment, and offering physical help, financial advice and emotional support.
Meanwhile, if you’re going to do research on the internet, it’s important to make sure you use a reliable source. The Live Better With Cancer website contains a wealth of resources, including a wide range of articles, guides and useful products to help those who are living with cancer.
Many people also find that it helps to join a local support group - you can do an internet search to find a group in your area. Joining an online community, such as the Live Better With Cancer community forum, can also give you 24-hour access to advice and support, where you can share tips and information with others who are going through a similar experience.
2) Talk to your friends and family
Having cancer can sometimes be an isolating experience, and when it comes to telling people it can be difficult to know where to start. However, talking to close friends and family members and building up a support network around you can make all the difference as you go through cancer treatment.
You might want to begin by talking to your partner, or a close family member or friend. They may be able to help you with telling other people, especially when it comes to extended family members.
Friends and family can be an invaluable source of practical and emotional support. Whether it’s helping out with the housework, driving to appointments, cooking, helping with your paperwork or doing some babysitting, it’s important to accept offers of practical help so that you can concentrate on your treatment and recovery.
Similarly, it’s good to have someone that you trust and can talk to about what you’re going through. A cancer diagnosis can make you feel a range of different emotions, including shock, anger, fear, sadness, and even guilt. It’s important for you to be able to talk to someone about how you’re feeling.
You can read the Live Better With Guide to How to talk to your family about your cancer diagnosis here.
3) Find out about your treatment options
When you’re first diagnosed with cancer, it’s natural to feel worried about what comes next. Finding out about your cancer and treatment options can help you feel better equipped to make decisions.
It’s a good idea to write down any questions as you think of them, and take a list with you whenever you see your treatment team. Be sure to ask about anything you don’t understand regarding your cancer, the treatment, the likely side effects, and any tests and scans you may be having.
If you can, take a friend or family member with you so they can make notes for later, as all that information can be difficult to remember, especially when you’re under stress.
Macmillan have a range of resources relating to cancer treatments, and you can also read the informative Live Better With Cancer treatment guides, including Chemotherapy and Managing Your Side Effects, and the Live Better With Guide to Radiotherapy.
4) Talk to your employer
Coping with work and financial issues can be another worry when you’re diagnosed with cancer. You may be anxious about whether you’ll need to take time off work, how it will affect your finances, and how your employer may react to the news. Planning ahead and finding out about financial support can reduce some of the anxiety.
Your treatment team should be able to give you an idea of how your treatment is likely to affect your ability to work, although you may need to wait until treatment begins to get a true picture.
It’s important to remember that people with cancer are protected by the Equality Act. This means that you must not be treated unfairly as a result of your cancer. Your employer may be able to make adjustments to help support you.
Put together a list of things you’d like to discuss when you meet your employer. This might include information about sick pay, any support schemes they may have in place (such as an employee assistance programme, or EAP), and any adjustments that may be able to help you carry on working. It can also help to take someone along with you for moral support.
If you’re self-employed or a business owner, you may be entitled to other financial assistance such as state benefits. Macmillan have a range of informative guides relating to benefits and managing your finances.
5) Put a plan together
As you undergo cancer treatment, you will need to take things steadily and make sure you have plenty of time to rest and recuperate.
You may find that you have less capacity to deal with the things you normally would. Try to think about what’s most important to you and put any others tasks to one side.
Hospital visits and treatments can take up a significant amount of time, and you’ll need to manage a lot of different appointments. Many people find it helpful to record their appointments and other useful information by using a calendar or planner.
The Live Better With community recommend the CanPlan cancer planner, which includes appointment trackers, as well as diet and lifestyle tips, and inspirational quotes and exercises.
If you need to take a lot of medication, using a daily pill organiser can also help you to stay on track.
6) Set small, achievable goals
As well as dealing with the practical side of things, it’s also important to look after yourself emotionally. You need some time and space to adjust to your diagnosis, and it’s important to be realistic in your expectations of yourself.
Doing something you enjoy every day can help you to stay positive. Set yourself small, achievable goals, putting whether it’s going for a short walk, watching a favourite movie, or having coffee with a friend.
Taking some gentle exercise can also help you to feel better physically and mentally. Try doing some simple yoga stretches or relaxing breathing exercises. Many people also find mindfulness a very useful technique to help reduce stress.
A cancer diagnosis is an incredibly difficult time, but by seeking support and following some simple first steps, you can feel more confident and in control.
Macmillan Cancer Support - www.macmillan.org.uk
Breast Cancer Care - www.breastcancercare.org.uk
Cancer Research UK - www.cancerresearchuk.org
Cancer Support UK - www.cancersupportuk.org
Visit the Live Better With Cancer community forum, where people with experience of living with cancer can provide support and practical advice.