Dealing with the diagnosis

When you are first diagnosed with cancer it is often difficult to take in the news immediately – you might hear the words, but not be able to absorb them or believe them. There are many reasons for this reaction. Cancer is a serious disease and, at first, most people feel overwhelmed and confused about treatment options and possible side effects. You may wonder if you will be the same person as before, if you will be able to do the things you usually enjoy, if your work life will be impacted, and if your relationships will change

These thoughts and feelings are a natural reaction to a serious health situation. However, you can explore ways to manage these feelings before they overwhelm you.

Learn more about:

Listen to our podcasts on Managing Fear and Managing Cancer Fatigue

Common reactions

For many people, the first few weeks after they are diagnosed with cancer are very stressful. There is no right way to feel – experiencing a range of emotions is normal and everyone will cope differently.

These feelings may be constant, or they may come and go. You may find that some pass with time, while others last longer. At times, it may feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster.

There are many ways to cope with how you’re feeling. Everyone is different, and you need to deal with the diagnosis in your own way. Talking to family and friends is often helpful, and some people find joining a support group makes them feel reassured and less alone

Feelings you may experience

  • Shock and disbelief – It may take time to accept that you have cancer, especially if you don’t feel sick. However, some people may never accept the diagnosis.
  • Fear – It’s frightening to hear you have cancer. Most people cope better when they learn more about the diagnosis and treatment options.
  • Distress – The cancer diagnosis may cause you, your carers and family members to experience high levels of emotional distress.
  • Sadness – Feeling sad after a cancer diagnosis is common. If you feel continually sad or down for two or more weeks and are not enjoying or interested in your usual activities, or are unmotivated, talk your doctor – you may be experiencing depression.
  • Anxiety – It’s natural to worry about the prognosis and treatment, and the impact the diagnosis will have on your family, work and other responsibilities, but looking too far ahead may be unhelpful.
  • Anger – You may feel angry with health care professionals, your god, or even yourself if you think you may have contributed to the cancer or a delay in diagnosis. Perhaps you are angry that you did everything right, and you still got cancer.
  • Guilt and blame– It is common to ask ‘why me?’ and to look for a cause of cancer. While you may blame yourself, no-one deserves to get cancer.
  • Loneliness – You might feel lonely and isolated if your family and friends have trouble understanding or dealing with your diagnosis, or if you are too sick to work or socialise with others and enjoy your usual activities.
  • Loss of control – Being told you have cancer can be overwhelming and make you feel as though you are losing control of your life.

Finding hope

In Australia, the rates of cancer survival have increased significantly over time, but it can be hard to feel hopeful when you have just been diagnosed with cancer. Worrying about the future is natural. Treatments are improving constantly, and if the cancer can’t be controlled, symptoms can be relieved to make life more comfortable.

Often the first thing people ask when told they have cancer is, ‘Am I going to die?’ Talk to your doctor about what the diagnosis means for you and what the future may hold. Knowing more about your illness may help ease this fear.

If you’ve been told your cancer is advanced, you may find it harder to feel hopeful. In some cases, advanced cancer can be controlled for many years, allowing you to do the things you enjoy for as long as possible. For more information call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for a copy of Living with Advanced Cancer, or download one below.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Emotions and Cancer.

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit:


To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit:

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit:

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in January 2016
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum

Need legal and financial assistance?
Pro bono services, financial and legal assistance, and no interest loans

Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment

Cancer information

What is cancer?
How cancer starts and spreads

Dealing with the diagnosis
Common reactions to a cancer diagnosis and how to find hope

View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends