Advice for Those Newly Diagnosed

Bob Riter
Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes
Last Modified: June 17, 2010

Bob and Queenie
Bob and Queenie

The first few days following a cancer diagnosis are like riding on top of a speeding train. You're hanging on for dear life and can't quite see what's ahead. Although every situation is somewhat different, this is what I generally suggest:

  • Focus on one step at a time. If you're having a biopsy next week, focus on that biopsy and don't let your mind wander to what might happen next. It's easy to overwhelm yourself with thousands of "what if" questions.
  • Family members, friends, and complete strangers will give you advice. Be wary if they say, "You should do..." Though well-intentioned, they don't know what's best for you. You do.
  • Remember that cancer treatments change rapidly. The treatment that was standard three years ago may not be standard today. What you hear from people treated in the past is usually out of date.
  • We often talk about cancer as a single disease, but there are over 200 types of cancer. Don't assume that what you hear about one type of cancer holds true for other cancers as well.
  • Survival statistics are averages. They can be helpful if you want a general idea of what will happen, on average, to a large group of people with your disease, but they can't predict what will happen to you.
  • Don't hesitate to get a second opinion if you think it might be helpful. Your doctor won't mind. (If your doctor does mind, you should get another doctor).
  • A new cancer diagnosis is rarely a medical emergency. You generally have several days or even weeks to explore your options. (Some situations do require immediate attention - ask your doctor how long it's safe to wait before beginning treatment).
  • Don't begin a radical "cancer curing" diet or major lifestyle change during treatment. Just eat sensibly and nutritiously, exercise moderately, and get plenty of rest. You can make whatever lifestyle and diet changes you want after treatment is over.
  • Medications that control side effects have improved tremendously, but not every medication works equally well for each person. Don't suffer in silence. Tell your doctor when you feel lousy. Other drugs may work better for you.
  • Nearly everyone undergoing cancer treatment experiences fatigue. It's probably the most common and least publicized side effect. Conserve your energy for activities that are most important to you.
  • Recovery is not a straight line. You'll feel better one day; then you'll feel worse; then you'll feel better. Don't be discouraged by the down days.
  • The end of treatment is not necessarily a time of celebration. For many people, it's the most difficult time because you want to get back to your old routine, but you still feel tired and blah. Be patient with yourself.
  • Don't blame yourself for your cancer. It's usually impossible to say why an individual got cancer. And no one -- no one -- deserves cancer.

Bob is the Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appear regularly in the Ithaca Journal. He can be reached at

Reprinted with Permission of the Ithaca Journal
Original Publication Date: January 5th, 2009