what is an announcement bar

Receiving a cancer diagnosis

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer may cause you to feel a mixture of emotions from sadness to anger and helplessness. Not knowing what the future may hold can make you feel a sense of loss of control of the your future. It is important to know that these feelings are normal and you are not alone.

To learn more about some of the emotions you may feel read our “what to expect” page.

Below are some things you can do that will help you when coping with a cancer diagnosis.

Be informed

If you have no idea what cancer is, start by asking your doctor. He or she can explain how your type of cancer may affect your body, along with the side effects and how to manage them.

It is important to know what kind and stage of cancer you currently have. Some forms of cancer generally have a better outlook when diagnosed early, compared to those that are diagnosed at advanced stages. Knowing the cancer stage can help you understand what treatment options are available for you.

You should find out what treatment options are available to you and are recommended. A combination of treatments may be recommended to provide the best outcome. Find out what each of these involves and whether they would be carried out all together or one after the other. You should ask your oncology team how long they expect each treatment to last, what the possible side effects are, and how effective they usually are. You can also find out about what tests are available to monitor your progress.

Knowledge is power

There might be an overwhelming amount of information to gather, but as they saying goes, “Knowledge is power.” The more one knows, the more one is able to control events. The more you know about your cancer, the more empowered you become in determining the treatment that best suits you. Doctors can give advice and offer you options, but the right to make decisions about medical treatments remains yours.

See our page “questions to ask your oncologist” to help increase your knowledge of your cancer.

Establish a support system

Devastation, disbelief and anger are only some of the emotions you might experience when diagnosed with cancer. A cancer diagnosis is associated with high levels of psychological stress as it impacts on your family, work, relationships and daily activities.

Concerns about side-effects of treatments, loss of personal and social control, progressive weakening of the body, and thoughts of potential death is manifested through anxiety and even depression. This is the time when connecting with people is essential.

There is no easy way to live with cancer but having a good support system helps keep the burden lighter.

Having a support system helps create:

  • emotional support – family members can offer esteem, trust, concern, and a listening ear

  • instrumental support- friends and relatives, nurses and carers aid in money, time, labour, and/or in kind

  • esteem (appraisal) support – friends can give encouragement and affirmation

  • informational support – mates can give information, advice, instruction, and problem solving suggestions to be able to assist with everyday routines.

Talk to friends, family and whānau

Some people find that talking to friends, family and whānau can provide some relief from unpleasant emotions. Some people find it easier to talk than others. If you find it difficult to talk about feelings, you might want to organise to do something with a friend whilst you talk, such as fishing or walking, to reduce the pressure on having to talk directly about your feelings and to provide something else to focus on occasionally.

Seek support outside of your immediate circle of family, whānau and friends

Communicate your worries and concerns about your condition. A family friend, spiritual leader or kaumatua can give you support in processing your emotions. You can also connect with cancer survivors who have a lived understanding of your experience, through various channels, including online, in person or on the phone.

Participating in a support group for people with cancer has been found to significantly improve the emotional state (anxiety and/or depression), develop the relationship with a spouse, boost adaptation to illness, and overall enhance quality of life.

Seek professional support

Some people find talking to a professional counsellor, palliative care specialist or psychologist can help them to understand and find strategies to work through negative emotions.

Your G.P might be able to refer you to a psychologist or you may prefer to see someone privately who has been recommended to you. There are a number of different options available to you for professional support.

Helplines are also available from the local government agencies and international organisations.

For more details of support services, support networks and resources visit our resources page.

Take care of your body

Diet and nutrition: Cancer and cancer treatments can affect your diet. You may need to see a dietitian and have special dietary arrangements. Problems with how your body processes food may arise but coping with dietary symptoms is possible. Take a look at the diet and nutrition advice we have on each of our cancer pages.

Exercise: Try to keep active by engaging in regular exercise. If you have not done any form of regular exercise before your diagnosis, start with small changes to your daily activities. Exercise has been shown to decrease psychological distress and help manage cancer-related fatigue, among other benefits.

Consider complementary therapies and rōngoa Māori for handling symptoms

Complementary therapies can be used to manage the symptoms of cancer. With increasing scientific support for complementary therapies and rōngoa Māori, these can complement standard treatments to help you cope with, and manage, symptoms of cancer and cancer treatments.

When necessary, consider hospice care

Talk to your doctor about Hospice Care. It is a specialised form of medical, psychological, and spiritual support that is provided to patients and their loved ones when cancer therapies are no longer controlling the disease. The focus of hospice care is control of symptoms and pain related to cancer, keeping you as comfortable as possible near the end of life. Entering hospice is by no means seen as giving up. It just means the goal of treatment has changed and you are taking control of your journey.

Remember, we’re all different

There is no standard pathway to dealing with a cancer diagnosis – each person has a different set of circumstances at the time they discover they have cancer, and each person’s journey will be different. Knowing where to go and what to do next after receiving your diagnosis can assist in ensuring you are supported and don’t need to face your experience alone.