So....You Just Found Out You Have Cancer.

On the day that I was diagnosed with cancer, I sat anxiously in a sterile hospital room with stark white walls, intrusive fluorescent lighting, and paper covered seats.  Several nurses were rushing nervously in and out.

I didn’t understand.  “Why does everything seem so urgent?” I asked.

One of the nurses knelt down to look me in the eyes.  As she laid a hand on my knee she said, “Honey, it’s because we think you have Leukemia.”  The rest of that day is a blur. 

The weeks after I was diagnosed felt like swimming in deep, dark water.  My mind was swirling with disbelief (somebody must have misread my test results!), sleepless nights, and way too much information. 

Does any of this sound familiar?

If you have just been diagnosed with cancer, I want you to know that you are not alone! 

There are countless people who have walked this path before you, there is an abundance of resources, support, and experts to assist you with every aspect of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual crisis that you are facing. 

But for now, I want to offer just a few thoughts as you are finding your footing.  Here are the essential things you need to know right now:

1.      Breathe.  Right now.  Stop, and take a big, deep breath.  If you are like most people, you heard the word “Cancer” and the rest is a blur.  Don't expect that you are supposed to have a handle on all of this yet!  It will be like slowly learning a new language.  Be patient with yourself, try to stay calm, and remember to breathe. 

2.      Bring your attention back to the present moment.  After a cancer diagnosis, it is common to spend a lot of time obsessing about the past (“How did this happen?  What did I do wrong?”), and worrying about what might happen in the future (“What if I get bad side effects from the chemo?  What if the treatment doesn’t work?”).  But no amount of worrying will change the future, and it will only add to your anxiety.  You will find that if you bring yourself back to what is happening in the present moment, most days will actually be pretty good days – even in the midst of this crisis!

Which is a great segue to my next piece of essential advice:

3.      Do NOT go on the Internet!  For the love of God, do NOT Google your diagnosis for information!  You will only find bad news, scary stories, and worst case scenarios.  That is NOT the whole story!  Instead, stick to the trusted, reliable organizations such as the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org), the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov), and disease specific sites such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (www.lls.org).   

4.      Don’t freak out about statistics!   Everyone wants to know ahead of time what their outcome will be.  But remember: Statistics can only tell you the overall big picture, not what will happen to each individual. Statistics can not tell you how YOU will respond.  Instead, it is up to you to make up your own mind and decide that you will be one of the “good” statistics – one of the people who is successful! 

5.      Find a Role Model.  You will no doubt encounter people who can’t stop themselves from telling you all about their friend’s sister-in-law who died from your very same disease.  (What is wrong with these people?!?!)  But you will also certainly meet people who successfully navigated their cancer diagnosis with grace, humor and wisdom.  Use these people as your inspiration and motivation.  There is life after cancer and it is a life worth fighting for.  You just have to find the right role models, and ignore all the rest! 

6.      Take Notes.  Write down all of your questions for your doctor ahead of your appointment.  Take someone with you to your appointments who can take notes, or record the audio of your appointment on your cell phone so that you can replay it later.  Again, way too much information is coming at you right now, so don't expect to understand it all or to remember the details. 

7.      Rally the troops!  It can be very hard to ask others for help, but a good, strong support system can be incredibly healing.  Consider starting a blog through a site like www.caringbridge.org so that you can send updates to all of your family and friends at once instead of having to repeat your story over and over.  Websites like www.MyLifeLine.org also include blogging, a helping calendar to coordinate care, ideas for raising funds and educational resources.  And most importantly, try to really feel all of the love coming from all of the people that care about you and say “yes” to the help and support that is offered.  Your community will be a truly healing force!

8.      Keep Breathing.

If you are struggling to cope with or make sense of your cancer diagnosis, please contact me at 720.984.1582 or melanie@cocancercounseling.com.  It would be my honor to support you on your journey!