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Cancer Health Center

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6 Ways to Conquer a Scary Diagnosis

Life goes on after receiving news of a frightening illness. Here’s how.

Tips for Coping continued...

Expect to absorb only some of what you're told. As soon as you hear a doctor tell you that you have a serious illness, chances are you'll absorb very little else of that conversation. That's completely normal. In a survey of 150 cancer patients by Amgen, 71% of respondents said that, initially, they had difficulty understanding information about their disease and treatment options.

"Your attention span becomes very short, maybe because of shock," says Carolyn Ingram, EdD, a psychologist, breast cancer survivor, and co-author of The Not-so-Scary Breast Cancer Book. "There's a part of you that's very preoccupied," Gruman concurs. "When we're really stressed, it's hard to take in new information."

Because feelings of shock and bewilderment may continue to overwhelm you in the days following your diagnosis, digesting information in very short, pithy chunks can be helpful, suggests Ingram. So, whether you're attempting to learn more about your disease by searching the Internet, reading books on the topic, or speaking with various health care professionals, beware of overwhelming yourself with too much information all at once.

Be patient when learning information about your disease. When a serious illness is first diagnosed, it's not always possible to pinpoint its scope. Often, additional tests or even surgery is required to fully understand the extent of an illness and related health problems. It may take weeks or even months to determine the proper or complete course of treatment.

"Initially, it's hard to find information that's sufficiently tailored to your condition," Gruman tells WebMD. "It's difficult to tap a physician's expertise at the very beginning."

While some people have a hard time not knowing exactly what to expect from an illness, recognizing up front that it may take some time can help quell anxiety. In the interim, don't dwell on the unknown at the expense of your well-being, advises Gruman. "Make sure you continue to eat enough, drink enough water, and get the rest you need," she says.

Choose the support that works for you. How you come to terms with a scary diagnosis is a very personal decision. Choosing whom to tell and lean on for support is a significant part of the process, and there's no right or wrong way to do it.

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