Tips for a Recently Diagnosed Cancer Patient

I’ve had cancer for a decade. While there has been many roller coasters along the way, the first few weeks after a diagnosis were the most stressful and mentally draining. Through my cancer journey, like my business career, having role models and mentors were critical. So to honor my 10-year anniversary with cancer, as well as National Mentoring month, I will pull out my big “C” mentoring cap and provide a series of posts on how to move forward with a recent cancer diagnosis.

Whether you are the patient or caregiver, a cancer diagnosis can be surreal and somewhat shocking. What blows is that you can’t bury your head in the sand for long. You have to make several decisions in a short amount of time. Here are a few tips that worked for me when it came to handling those first few weeks.

Don’t Do Extensive Research on the Internet About Your Diagnosis – Get Second & Third Opinions Instead

Unless you’re a doctor or medical practitioner that specializes in cancer treatment, skimming the internet will likely bring more anxiety than calming nerves. If you crave that information right away, ask a friend to do the research focusing on learning about the latest medical treatments for your type of cancer (drugs, surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and other modalities). Don’t search out statistics; look to find anecdotal success stories.

Get Second & Third Opinions

I can’t stress this enough. I know it’s exhausting and overwhelming. Plus, you want to have faith in your first doc because you often trust them for navigating you through the initial diagnosis. However, getting more opinions provides opportunities to digest all the new information with professionals trained to discuss it. Sometimes doctors don’t agree, which is why having several physicians explain the data and recommendations can be incredibly useful. Each appointment is an opportunity to ask more questions in order to feel good about your treatment plan.

Find an Appointment Buddy

Don’t go to appointments alone. Choose someone who will join you every time. The first several weeks are tiresome, confusing, scary, and nauseating. That is why having a close friend or family member take notes at appointments is incredibly necessary. They can help you discuss potential treatment plans and provide questions to ask the doctors when you are feeling crazed.

Organize A Medical Binder

Gather all relevant doctor’s appointment reports and scans and put in a binder. Contact the medical records department where you had your scans and procedures. Ask them for two (2) copies on CD of each scan with the reports and any other procedure reports (i.e. biopsy). You will need all this information to share with doctors for second and third opinions. Plus, it will be handy if you find someone in the medical or natural field who wants to help you on your journey in the future.

Create Your Own Inner Circle and Network Within It

The first few weeks, I didn’t want anyone to know that I had cancer. In addition to being upset and scared, I didn’t have the time to explain to others what I was thinking, feeling and going to do. Thanks to a small group of family and friends, my inner-circle did it for me once I was ready to share the news.

The good news about people learning you are sick is that they often want to be there for you. Help comes in many forms: homemade dinners, rides to appointments, feel-good gestures, creative care packages and practical resources. Your friends and extended family members may know others in the medical or natural field that can provide useful information and advice when you’re trying to make decisions on treatment. I know it sounds silly to network about your cancer, but isn’t your life worth it?

Ask for Help

Your friends and family often feel helpless because they don’t know what it is like to be in your shoes. Delegate opportunities for them to help because it makes your life easier, which is what they want. Some ideas include researching doctor and hospital program information, cleaning laundry, scheduling meal deliveries, and babysitting kids, to name a few.

Because I’m silly, a year ago today, I asked my inner circle to help me laugh. Within hours, my best friends across the country joined me, my son and my niece in a Night-Before-My-Scan-Results Dance Party. Our theme song was PitBull’s “Feel the Moment” and I watched seven videos of them dancing in their kitchens, high-powered offices and cars.

For more information on navigating through the initial stages, see the resources below:

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Cancer Treatment –

How to Find a Doctor: Oncologist, radiation oncologist, surgeon or other specialist – WebMD Physician Finder, ZocDoc or the American Medical Association Doctor Finder

Counseling. Support Groups. Education. Financial Assistance –

Over the next few weeks, I will discuss my favorite cancer related books to share with newly-diagnosed patients and caregivers. I will also talk about how to be a “good” patient. Please tell me what other information would be useful or share stories about what helped you or a loved one upon an initial diagnosis.



  1. These are great ideas for a time when it must seem impossible to know what to do or say.

    • Caryn Sullivan

      Thanks Jessie. It was challenging, but since I had to go through it, I hope to make things a little bit easier for someone else.

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