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Cancer Emotional Survival: Tips for newly diagnosed cancer survivors

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09 Jul 2015

Two-time cancer survivor shares thoughts to help newly diagnosed cancer patients cope emotionally.

Back in the day and still in existence are summaries of classical books and plays that provide a summarized version of the complete story. Here is the short summary of suggestions for someone newly diagnosed with cancer as written by me, someone who has been through breast cancer and melanoma now looking back.

Every cancer and every cancer patient are unique, and there are no true shortcuts through cancer. I wish there were. Still, I am hoping these ideas will help you. These are the thoughts I wish I could have heard and used to cope with the feelings of a cancer diagnosis right after hearing the words “You have cancer.” Maybe they will help you or someone you love. Here is the short list summary:

1. Allow yourself to cry and experience whatever you are feeling. Cancer is a life changer. You are completely allowed. The feelings can be long-term and intense. This is hard stuff. Working through the feelings may work better than stuffing them and having them come out at friends and family in strange ways.

2. Don’t do cancer alone. Connect with a fellow survivor, a support group, a family member or friend, and/or someone further out with a similar cancer. Tell your faith community what is happening to you. Cherish your connections with those who want to help you. Connect with as many as you can for support—especially at initial diagnosis and active treatment, but even after, as needed too.

3. Ask for help. Accept help. Don’t be shy about explaining what you need (a meal, a ride, a hug) when loved ones offer to help. They want to help but they may not know how to help. Be specific. Reach out to organizations that help support cancer survivors too.

4. Assemble a medical team you believe in and trust and then trust them. Ask people around you for doctor references. Research. Take questions and notes to the doctors. Write down the answers or have someone with you to do it for you.

5. Follow the “do what works for you” philosophy for coping emotionally before, during, and after active cancer treatment to comfort yourself. This is going to be a challenging time that you need to get through. That said, do follow the doctors’ instructions and do keep the doctors posted on what you are doing and how you are doing. You don’t want to do or eat anything that counteracts their treatment plan for you.

6. Give yourself the same courtesies you would give a friend in the same situation:

• Be gentle with yourself.
• Give yourself the gift of time whenever you possibly can. Focus on things that are really good at distracting you from your cancer and on things that slow down the thoughts racing around in your mind.
• Help yourself however you can—tears, walking, journaling, meditating, finding comfort under a favorite blanket, connecting with nature, distraction…You may find that different things work for you at different times. Be open to a learning process of what is helpful to you.

Coping with the emotions of cancer really can’t be reduced to a list of suggestions. If I had been handed a list at the time of diagnosis or shortly after that, I don’t know if it would have helped me or if I would even have been ready to “hear” those suggestions. Coping emotionally with cancer is a long-term process. Cancer is a journey. Everyone’s journey is a little bit different, and still I hope these ideas help you.



Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor since 2010 and a melanoma survivor since 2014. She does motivational cancer talks in the Midwest and blogs to help cancer survivors and their loved ones at Beginning in 1998, Barbara began her career a professional seminar leader, speaker, and published writer on clutter clearing and home organizing, appearing on television, radio, and other media venues across the country. She now survives and thrives (most days) in Minnesota with her husband, daughters, and dogs. Her books, Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools and Clutter Clearing Choices are available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. You may contact Barbara at, or


This is another excellent blog Barbara that will be really useful for blood cancer patients - I wish I'd read this before I was first diagnosed! I think that the asking for help thing is really important as a lot of patients often feel too proud or embarrassed to ask, feeling that they're in some way being a burden or that it's a sign of weakness. It's actually quite the opposite and most people really want to help.