3 Resilience-Building Tools for Those Newly Diagnosed with Cancer

by Rebecca Pine

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Hearing the words, “You have cancer…” can feel like the world around you is crumbling, and your very foundation begins to shake.  It is important to acknowledge any feelings that surface.  There simply are no “wrong” reactions.  A cancer diagnosis comes as a shock.  Taking the time to allow yourself to process and express your feelings is both healthy and necessary.  Some of the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing may feel particularly uncomfortable.  You may feel depressed, angry, resentful, or numb.  These are all completely normal responses. 

When dealing with a cancer diagnosis, there is a sense of urgency to make major decisions quickly that will have an impact on the rest of your life.   You need to take on a lot of information and become aware of new terminology, tests, procedures, and treatments.  Some of the decisions can have an affect on your longevity; others affect the quality of your life.

Here are 3 tools to help make things a bit smoother as you settle into the whirlwind of this life-altering diagnosis, based on my experience as a survivor and through 5 years of working closely with cancer patients.

1.  Tackle the Critical, Toss the Rest

It can be tremendously helpful to apply a triage mentality as you sift through all the new information that comes along with your diagnosis.  Try to assess the situations at hand and tackle whatever is most critical immediately, noting what you can address later, and what you can let go of altogether for the time being.  Delegate whatever you can.  You don’t need to figure everything out.  You need only decide whatever is the next right thing to do.  This can be incredibly freeing. Take an overview of your current circumstances to see what the current priority is—it is, of course, completely normal that this will keep changing. 

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You don’t need to figure everything out.  You need only decide whatever is the next right thing to do.

2.  Be Gentle With Yourself

Remember that this is a time of upheaval.  Try no to judge the different reactions you may be having.  A diagnosis of cancer understandably brings up many dark and uncomfortable emotions and fears.  Seek out a trusted friend or family member to share your thoughts and feelings with.  Although it seems counter-intuitive, allowing yourself to experience and express will help you to move forward constructively.  As much as possible, be gentle with yourself.  Try to find regular, small ways of nurturing yourself.  A cup of your favorite tea, a nature walk, or some quiet time to write and reflect can help to provide a shelter from the storm.  These are important practices to lean on as you recover physically from surgery and treatment, and beyond.  Ask for help!  Chances are good that the people who care about you want to be helpful but don’t necessarily know what you want and need.  Being open to their help is a win-win.

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A cup of your favorite tea, a nature walk, or some quiet time to write and reflect can help to provide a shelter from the storm.

3. Setting Limits

Although your hands are more than full, there may be people in your life who have no clue what it is like to go through an experience of cancer.  Some may continue to behave as though nothing has changed for you, still expecting you to fulfill responsibilities, expectations, or favors.  You may find it helpful to set limits to preserve your energy and make sure you have the time and energy you need to focus on your course of action, treatments, surgery, and emotional processing. 

It is empowering to remember that you can say “no thank you” to anything that feels unhealthy, at any time.  If acquaintances, friends, co-workers, or even family, are being negative or attempting to draw the focus from you to them, consider setting clear-cut boundaries with them.  Restricting or eliminating contact with people that feel unhealthy for you can make a positive impact on your health.  This is such an important time to focus on yourself and your needs.  Everything else will need to sit on the back burner.  Those who are truly there for you will understand this.  The others will have to accept this whether they understand or not.    

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This is such an important time to focus on yourself and your needs.  

 
 
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A cancer diagnosis can appear to be a roller coaster of uphill struggles followed by free-for-all leaps of faith.  Remember to tackle the most critical issue at hand, delegate what you can, and toss the rest until time and energy are available to deal with them.  Be gentle with yourself and any fears or feelings that come up.  Find small, manageable ways to nurture yourself.  Ask for and welcome help whenever possible, and don’t be afraid to set limits.  This can protect your time and energy; others will adjust.