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Newly diagnosed

Everyone reacts in their own way when first diagnosed. When hearing the news, some people find it hard to breathe or feel like their head is spinning. Many people say that when they heard “you have cancer,” they went numb and didn’t hear a word the doctor said after that. You might think that there has been some mistake or it may take some time to believe what the doctor tells you, especially if you don’t feel sick.

The days and weeks right after a diagnosis can be very stressful. Sometimes they’re overwhelming. Some even say that the time right after diagnosis and leading in to treatment was the worst period they went through.

It’s easy to feel like you can’t cope with so much to learn and so many decisions to make. For most people, cancer changes everything. You might feel like you have to act as quickly as possible, like it’s an emergency. In other ways, time might seem to stand still. Many people wonder why this is happening to them or what they could have done in the past so that they wouldn’t have cancer now.

Taking care of yourself before treatment

It’s important to make sure that you are as healthy as possible before starting treatment. Below are some of the steps you can take.

  • See your dentist to make sure your teeth, gums and mouth are healthy. Fix any cavities, broken teeth or swollen gums. This is especially important if you are having radiation therapy to the head or neck or having a type of chemotherapy drug that can cause mouth problems.
  • Get as much rest as you can.
  • Eat healthy foods. You may also want to prepare some healthy meals to put in the freezer for when you aren’t up to cooking.
  • Try to get in the habit of doing some gentle exercise like walking for at least 30 minutes every day. If you can keep that up, it can help you cope with fatigue and other side effects during treatment.
  • Get a wig if you know you are going to lose your hair during treatment and you want to wear one. It’s much easier to match your hair to a wig when you still have your hair.

Waiting for treatment to start

Once you’ve been diagnosed, it’s normal to feel that treatment should start right away. But before your doctors can get you the treatments you need, in the order you need them, they need to find out as much as they can about the cancer. That means you’ll have tests and must wait for the results.

If you’re struggling with waiting, it may help to find out more about how the test results will be used to plan your treatment. Your doctor can also reassure you that the time spent having tests, making a plan and scheduling your treatment should not affect how well the treatment works.

Getting involved in your own care can help you manage your fears and get back some control. There are several ways you can do this as you prepare for and go through treatment.

Get organized. In the early days after your diagnosis, there will be a lot that you don’t know about the future. What you probably do know is that you suddenly have a lot of appointments, tests and paperwork to deal with. Make this as easy to manage as possible.

  • Start a filing system for medical records and test results. Some hospitals give out binders you can use, or you can create your own system using folders or an accordion file.
  • Use a diary, an online or paper calendar or an app to track appointments, tests, symptoms and side effects.
  • Ask someone you trust to help you maintain your schedule and review it with you regularly.

Get to know your healthcare team. Your healthcare team has many different professionals who are focused on your physical and emotional health. You will meet many of them while you are having tests and treatment planning.

Team members may include your family doctor, oncologists, surgeons, nurses, social workers, psychologists and many others. As they become part of your team, take some time to get to know them, understand their roles and find out how they might be able to help you. 

Learn more about working with your healthcare team.

Learn about your cancer and its treatment. Understanding more about your cancer and treatment may help you feel more in control while you are waiting for your treatment to start. You might want as much information as possible because it helps reduce your stress. Some treatment centres offer classes or programs that teach you about cancer and how to cope with treatment. Other people find that information makes them feel more anxious. It’s up to you to decide how much information you want to have about your illness and treatment. Let your family, friends and healthcare team know how much or how little information to share with you.

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Researcher Dr Michael Taylor Same brain tumour, different genetic profiles

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