Every day, thousands of people in the world receive a cancer message. No matter how it goes, the message and the upcoming treatment means that life is changing, both for you who are ill and for those around you. This text is about how you can handle the reactions and questions that may arise after a sick message.

Cancer is a loaded word for many, even though the disease is so common and many who get cancer get rid of the disease. Although not everyone who gets cancer gets completely healthy, there are good opportunities to live with the disease for a long time. New treatment methods are constantly evolving.

How can I respond to a cancer message?

Some people who receive a cancer message may have felt that something is wrong and have worried for a while. Others can be completely unprepared. The disease may have been detected during a regular health examination or when you searched for a symptom that you did not consider to be serious.

Getting a cancer message can make you in crisis. It is a common reaction to a new life situation. Reactions and feelings in connection with a crisis usually follow a similar pattern, but this may vary depending on the person and situation. You may find that the situation feels unreal, difficult to deal with and remember what is said on the visits.

Shock conditions change, although it can take a long time. After a while, you can start to react to and think about what has happened. Many people have a great need to talk about the disease, and to process what is happening. Others would rather be at peace. There is no right or wrong way. You can commute between emotions such as anger, despondency, unreality, and denial.

Why me?

It is common to ask the question: Why me? It’s easy to get guilt and start accusing yourself when trying to find an answer to the question of why you got cancer: Have I eaten the wrong things, sunbathed too much or have I waited too long to go to the doctor with symptoms that showed themselves due to cancer?

If you start accusing yourself, it’s good to remember that cancer is a disease that is rarely a direct cause. One person can get cancer while another does not – even though both have lived similar lives. You may have exerted yourself and lived a healthy life in order to avoid illness, and you have still got cancer.

Accept the situation

The concept of acceptance does not mean that you approve, like, give up, agree, think something is right, fair or good. Accepting just means that you realize that right now, the reality is like this, no matter what you want, wish or think.

Who can I talk to?

Talk to someone if you feel you’ve got stuck in pondering and feel bad about it. If you have close relatives you usually talk to, it may work to share your thoughts with them.

Some people may be scared and worried about illnesses and therefore have difficulty listening. Then they may pull away. Talk to a doctor or someone else in the care that you trust if it doesn’t work to talk to people in your area. You can try talking to a  contact nurse. Contact nurses are found in more and more hospitals. They have a special responsibility for the contact between the healthcare provider and the ill person. The contact nurse can provide support and advice, even to relatives.

The contact nurse has special knowledge in cancer care and can therefore also answer some questions about the disease. They can also help you make an appointment if you want to talk about the disease with a doctor or hospital curator, for example.

Talk to others in the same situation

Many people find it valuable to have contact with others who have similar experiences.

Patient associations have members with whom you can ask questions or discuss your experiences. For many cancer diseases, patient associations have been formed, and some of them have local wards. 

You can also call or email the Cancer Foundation or Cancer Counseling and talk to a nurse with experience in cancer care.

Here you will find contact information if you need cancer advice and support.

How do I find out more about the disease?

Cancer is always an individual disease, which is why the responsible doctor is the one who usually has the best answers to medical questions about your particular situation and how the disease manifests in you.

Much support and information are also available on the internet. Before browsing the Internet, it is good to keep in mind that there are many different origins of materials on the Internet. Be critical when it comes to medical information, that is, make sure that the source can be trusted and that the information is up to date.

Some think that statistics can make it easier to relate to the disease. But statistics on cancer diseases are often based on a large number of people at different stages of the disease and with more or less serious illness. Thus, statistics cannot say anything about an individual’s circumstances and can even be misleading for an individual. The statistics you find may also be old and no longer valid but instead, give a false and misleading picture.

Ask a doctor or contact nurse if you are unsure about the disease you found on the Internet.

There are various discussion forums on the Internet where you can talk to other people in similar situations. Many people like to follow bloggers who tell about their illnesses or treatments.

It can feel good to read about how others handle similar situations and get advice and tips on how life can feel. But remember that what applies to one person does not have to apply to another at all.

What questions can I ask the doctor after a cancer message?

Write down your questions in advance so that you do not forget anything when you talk to your doctor. It may also feel good to have someone close to you at a doctor’s visit. Together, you can perceive more than you are alone. In addition, the person who comes with you can also help ask questions.

Ask any questions you have. Ask the same question several times if you need to. It is often a lot to take in when you get a cancer message. Sorting out all the questions, thoughts and feelings that come up can take time. It is important that you understand the information so that you can be involved in your care.

It is good to write down the answers you get from doctors and other healthcare professionals. You can record the call if it feels easier, for example, if you have a mobile phone with such a feature. If so, say before. You can also ask for help in obtaining additional written information after the talks. Ask for another call if you want to ask some questions again or if new questions pop up.

Questions that may be good to ask are :

  • What kind of cancer is it?
  • What treatment can I receive, and are there several treatment methods?
  • Is the purpose of treatment to cure the disease?
  • Is the disease spread and what does it mean?
  • How do I know what effect the treatment will have, how is the effect measured?
  • What side effects does the treatment have?
  • When should treatment start?
  • How will treatment affect everyday life?
  • How can I help to make the treatment as good as possible?
  • Is there any literature or website where I can get more information?
  • Who is my responsible nurse? Is there a contact nurse?
  • Who do I contact if I have questions or have trouble when the reception is closed?
  • Who do I contact if I need someone to talk to?

You have the right to get the information from a doctor so that you can help decide which treatment is right for you. The questions should also get answers in the written care plan that you are entitled to and which you can participate in and design if you wish.

Does the doctor tell me everything, even if it is bad news?

It can be different how much information you want. Maybe you don’t want to know everything but ask about what feels most important for the moment. The doctor should adapt the answers to the questions you ask. But a doctor should never lie. You should get all the information if you are clear that you want it.

How can I handle the period of waiting before treatment?

Most cancers develop slowly and therefore it is rare to start a treatment. It is more important than the doctors who are medically responsible are given time to decide which treatment is best for you. You may need to be re-examined and submit more samples although it is already clear that you have cancer.

For many who have received a cancer message, worry feels worst before knowing what treatment is waiting and how it will go. 

Try to disperse your thoughts and concerns for a while. Devote yourself to things that you usually feel good about. It can be physical activity, listening to music, socializing with friends and talking about something other than the disease.

Life usually feels a little calmer once treatment begins.

What does a new medical assessment mean?

You may get a new medical assessment from another doctor. Obtaining another doctor’s assessment can help you, for example, if you are unsure which treatment is best for you. Wanting to get a new medical assessment does not mean that you are dissatisfied with your doctor’s assessment.

If you want to know more or ask for a second assessment, ask your doctor or any other representative for the reception where you received the first medical opinion. You do not have to worry about the question affecting how you are treated in health care because cancer doctors often handle new medical assessments.

How can I tell others about the disease?

There is nothing right or wrong in how you choose to tell you that you have cancer. Some need to tell as soon as possible, perhaps so early that they do not yet have as many facts about the disease but simply want to share their sense of shock and anxiety with someone. Others choose to first process the message themselves and tell later. Many people say that it can feel difficult to be the one who is sick but still need to comfort others in the environment who are shocked and scared by the message.

It may also happen that the surroundings say things that you may experience as insensitive when you are in a vulnerable situation and may feel extra vulnerable. At the same time, it can be comforting that others are involved in one’s life even during difficult and uncertain times. By telling you you get the opportunity to show exactly how you feel without having to pretend everything is as usual. It can also be empowering to experience other people’s reactions – some think it confirms their own feelings.

How can I tell children about the disease?

There is also some support on the internet that may be suitable for slightly larger children, for example: Near Cancer, Young Cancer and Cancer Friends.

The Cancer Foundation writes about how to talk to children of different ages.

What can I do for myself?

It may feel good to be able to do something yourself to cope with a treatment period and to feel as good as possible. Some feel that positive and reinforcing thoughts can help them, that it gives power in a stressful situation. But it is reasonable and quite common to be sad and depressed during a period of illness. What thoughts or feelings you have also do not affect the treatment.

Physical activity can give you the strength to cope with treatment and it can also help you feel better. Moving is not harmful. You can, for example, take walks, exercise or do water gymnastics. Of course, the training should be adapted to your own circumstances. Read more in the text about physical activity and physical therapy in cancer

Sometimes, but it is unusual, alternative treatments can affect the effectiveness of the treatment prescribed by the doctor. This is especially true of natural remedies and it is therefore important that you tell your doctor what you are taking or doing in addition to the treatment they prescribe.

Will life be as usual again?

No matter what type of cancer you have or cancer treatment you get, life is not exactly as it was before the illness message. You always have the experience of the disease and treatment. Many have it painful periodically, but usually, it gets better – although it can take time. Others may have difficulty seeing the future brightly and feel vulnerable and anxious long after treatment is over.

Even those living with chronic cancer disease testify that it is possible to manage life with changed conditions and that the new life can feel good.

Muhammad Nadeem

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