Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis

30 July 2017

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Expert interviewed:         
Cath Adams, clinical psychologist and psycho-oncologist

Cath and JulieThe thing about cancer is that it can just be such a shock. Few people are really ready to hear the words “It’s cancer”. What coping strategies can you turn to when faced with this life-changing news?

In this episode of The Thing About Cancer podcast, Julie chats with Cath Adams about life after a cancer diagnosis, and how to ride the emotional roller-coaster that often follows.

Cath offers a range of practical suggestions – and she has lots of experience and evidence to draw on. As a psycho-oncologist, she has worked for years helping people with cancer manage the emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis.

We learn that being scared is a normal reaction to such news, and that people who have just been diagnosed with cancer should allow themselves to have their response – there is no right or wrong way to respond, and everyone has their own coping style.

– Cath Adams, clinical psychologist and psycho-oncologist

Listen to Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis now, or find more episodes here.

Answering the big questions

If you have just been diagnosed with cancer, you are likely to have many questions.

Where can you find reliable information to better understand your diagnosis? Is it possible to always stay positive? And do you really need to? What does a diagnosis mean in age of the internet? Is it a good idea to see a psychiatrist or psychologist?

And how can you respond to inappropriate reactions from friends and family to your cancer diagnosis? Among the many kinds of reactions you may receive, you may often hear “my uncle had exactly the same thing” or “you should do this or that”. 

Relationship dynamics can shift as well – some people will try to take over, while others may disappoint you, but support might come from people you don’t expect.

How do you deal with all this?

Cath tackles these questions and more.

Seek support and case manage yourself

Seek support – talk to your treatment team, Cancer Council 13 11 20, social workers, and your friends and family. Keep these important people in the loop about where you’re at with your treatment, and if you need emotional, physical or practical support.

It is important to keep a folder of all your medical records and tests — to “case manage” yourself. It’s also a good idea to have someone join you when you go to appointments to jot down notes or record the conversation on their smart phones.

The key idea is to tap into past coping strategies – how have you got through challenges? Those tactics helped you cope in the past, so they may help you now too.

Let yourself feel, give yourself time

Cath says that if you have been diagnosed with cancer, you need to be as gentle with yourself as you would be with someone you care for.

Being creative can help focus your mind on something other than cancer, while activities like gentle exercise and meditation can help to reduce any cancer-related stress and anxiety.

The cancer journey doesn’t end when treatment ends 

Usually the cancer journey doesn’t end when treatment ends –  it can be the start of an emotional journey. But there are many support groups out there for people who have finished treatment.

Cath Adams, clinical psychologist and psycho-oncologist

Want more information or support? 

If you heard something mentioned in the podcast, you’ll find a link to it below. We’ve also added links to other sources of information and support.

From Cancer Council NSW 

From other organisations 

Listen to Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis now, or find more episodes here.