Being Diagnosed with Cancer


Upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, you may find yourself facing this frightening experience without any knowledge or understanding of how best to help yourself. The sheer volume of information that is now available about cancer and various treatment options can make the aftermath of diagnosis even more distressing for you and your family. The appropriate answers to your questions are unique to you and your specific circumstances, and they should come directly from your physician. However, a few basic principles can help everyone who faces this challenge:

1. Recognize that fear is natural, and know that it can be overcome.

For the great majority of patients, there is a sharp and very understandable focus on the physical aspects of the illness and treatment process. An important message bears repeating here: The mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of cancer are often as immediate, urgent, and challenging -- if not more so -- than the physical concerns. By understanding and recognizing fear as a completely normal reaction, you can begin to develop the conviction that it can and will be overcome. Recognize your need for love, support, and highly reliable information and know that you can and will find it. No matter how scared or confused you may be feeling, you must consciously choose to believe that you will get the care and support that you need and deserve. Decide right now to seek out and utilize the many sources of comfort and emotional support that can so greatly benefit you at this time. You will be amazed by the number of loving, caring individuals, organizations, and groups that are ready and willing to help. Information about these is provided in the appendices at the end of my book, "The Journey Through Cancer". But you must be open and willing to receive what they have to offer. Once again: decide right now to give yourself the gift of love and support that can be so precious at this critical time.

2. Slow down the decision-making process.

In the initial phase of dealing with cancer, you may feel a sense of urgency to decide what kind of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other treatments you should have. You may also want to know about taking herbs, vitamins, and supplements, and about how you should change your diet -- and you will want this information immediately. Very few instances exist in cancer treatment, however, in which such urgency is warranted. The process can almost always be slowed down for at least a few days in order to gather information and support. Don't allow yourself to be frightened or pressured into making any decisions about your treatment until you have a clear understanding of your choices. Take time to explore your options. Take time to breathe -- and breathe deeply!

3. Ask yourself this question: Do I have trust and confidence in my doctor?

In order to safely and effectively navigate your way through the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, you must have a qualified guide. In my opinion, this guide should be a well-trained oncologist who is experienced in dealing with your particular kind of cancer. In addition, you should feel assured that your doctor cares about you as an individual, and that he or she truly has your best interests at heart. Your doctor must also be readily available to take care of you if you become sick. What kind of hospital or medical center is the doctor affiliated with? What other specialists are available, if needed? Where will you go if you have problems or complications from your illness or treatment? Is this an environment in which you feel safe, comfortable, and genuinely cared for?

In many instances, dealing with cancer is straightforward, and the course to follow is clear. Sometimes, however, the best course is not clear at all -- a wide array of options and treatment approaches exist for many cancers. Each has its own advantages, disadvantages, risks, benefits, and potential toxicities, and appreciating these distinctions will take time and careful consideration. In such cases, it is important to communicate openly and directly with your doctor, and to have all your questions and concerns adequately addressed. If you feel this is not happening, you should by no means compromise. You must find and choose a doctor you can talk to, who genuinely respects your viewpoint, feelings, and wishes. This may require interviewing a number of oncologists. Don't hesitate to get a second opinion, or as many opinions as you need, until you feel at ease with your doctor and the options presented to you. Your relationship with your oncologist may become one of the most important relationships in your life, so make sure you are comfortable and confident before you proceed.

4. Recognize that your physical body needs love and attention, but so do your mind, heart, and spirit.

Cancer is most certainly a crisis that is occurring in the physical body, and it is imperative that patients receive the best possible medical care for their disease. Once again, this care must be guided by a competent, caring, and qualified guide, and administered in an impeccable manner. Integrating other modalities such as nutrition, exercise, vitamins, herbs, supplements, acupuncture, and massage can also be extremely important and valuable. But while you have a body, who you are is not limited to your body. You are a whole person. Thus, for healing to be complete, all the dimensions of who you are as a human being must be addressed with equal skill and attention -- including your mind, heart, and spirit. Take time every single day to honor and care for these other dimensions of who you are.

5. Recognize that life is a journey, and so is dealing with cancer.

All of life has a rhythm, a natural unfolding, and this includes the experience of cancer. It is important to seek out the information and care that you need. But it is equally important to remember that you need time to rest, to relax, to experience silence, and to be still. Give yourself this time each and every day. It is also important to give yourself permission to feel what you feel. Don't judge yourself -- in any way -- for whatever you may be experiencing at this moment in time. Know that dealing with cancer is a process in which you can and will become skilled and masterful. Recognize the fact that right now more resources exist to help and guide you than ever before in history, and these resources are fully available to you. You can find what you need, and you will.

The Journey Through Cancer by Jeremy Geffen, M.D. This article was excerpted from:

The Journey Through Cancer
by Jeremy Geffen, M.D.

Copyright 1999 by Jeremy Geffen. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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About The Author

Jeremy Geffen, M.D., F.A.C.P.Jeremy Geffen, M.D., F.A.C.P., is a board-certified medical oncologist and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians. He is the founder and director of the Geffen Cancer Center and Research Institute in Vero Beach, Florida ( In addition to his academic medical training he has more than twenty years of experience exploring the great spiritual and healing traditions of the East, including Ayurveda, Tibetan Medicine, yoga, meditation, and other approaches to self-awareness.

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