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“You Have Cancer” Coping Emotionally with a Serious Health Diagnosis

By Lynne Weilert, LMSW, Leawood Counseling Center

“You Have Cancer”Nothing can prepare you for the fear and anxiety that occurs when you are told you have Cancer or another serious diagnosis. Usually it starts with a phone call from the doctor’s nurse soon after a biopsy, CT Scan, or other form of testing. Suddenly, they want you back in the office within a day or two. Of course, you know something is up and your mind races trying to imagine what they could possibly have found. After a sleepless night or two, you arrive at your appointment and you are told the news. You have Cancer. You struggle to process the information. Then, after finding out exactly what form of cancer you have, you find yourself spending countless hours searching the internet, praying for studies or articles that provide a hopeful prognosis.

I understand the fear and anxiety associated with this topic, because I was personally diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer a few years ago. I was lucky, because the tumor was very small and the doctors caught it early. The CT Scan had showed nothing, but the biopsy that I had considered forgoing found the small, early stage cancer. After surgery, I am now cancer free, but I remember how difficult that experience was.

A Supportive Network is Key
When faced with the prospect of surviving a frightening disease, whether it be Cancer, Heart problems, Kidney failure, or any number of life changing diagnoses, it is helpful to get as much support as possible. Of course you want the best medical care, but I am talking about the emotional support that is critical to helping keep your spirit strong! Studies have shown that those who have a good supportive network of friends and family are more likely to survive their health crisis and do better long term.

Too many people allow Depression and Anxiety to take over their life when told they will be facing surgery, therapy and rehabilitation. They don’t know where to turn and become confused, frightened and overwhelmed.

Support groups through your church or synagogue can be helpful. Just sharing your fears with others who are coping with the same illness can bring a sense of peace. Spending time with supportive friends who are positive and encouraging can be immensely helpful. A long lunch or afternoon coffee with a kind friend can make all the difference. When you can’t talk in person, a phone call can be very therapeutic, as can internet support groups.

Coping with Diagnoses
If you have been diagnosed with a chronic condition such as diabetes or arthritis, you may need to be especially mindful in following your doctor’s recommendations for diet and exercise, as failing to do so can result in a manageable illness becoming much more severe, impacting not only your physical mobility, but your mental health as well. Find an activity that you will stick with such as walking. Go outside and get acquainted with your neighbors. It is sometimes the small efforts that can make a big impact on your physical and emotional health.

If the illness is terminal, it is important to formulate a thoughtful and empathetic way to let the family know. It is especially important if children are involved. Care must be taken to ensure that protections are in place for your dependents.
Doing so will lessen the fear and grief associated with a serious diagnosis. Spending quality time with your spouse or significant other at this time is very important and will go a long way to lessen the grief and concerns they are experiencing.

Compassion Fatigue
Not everyone has a large network of family and friends nearby. Even then, that support group may develop what is known as “Compassion Fatigue,” which means they can only cope with so much before their support wavers. It’s not that they don’t want to continue supporting you, but friends and family may be coping with their own personal and health concerns and just can’t continue the support at the level you may require.

Emotional Support and Proven Therapies
At this point, it is worth considering seeking help from an experienced professional Therapist or counselor who can listen to your concerns and offer not only emotional support, but suggest books and resources as well as incorporate a variety of proven therapies that may lessen your anxiety.

A qualified Therapist can provide the one on one personal time you may need to face the demons from your past and help you confront and process the fear, grief and anger you may be feeling. In case you are worried about discussing very personal and or painful information with a stranger, a licensed professional Therapist is bound by law to keep your information strictly confidential and private. Their goal is to help you walk through this journey with guidance, compassion, support and resolve.

We will all face a serious or life threatening illness at some point in our lives, but we don’t have to face it alone.

To learn more or to schedule an appointment for an initial consultation, please call Lynne at Leawood Counseling Center at 913-696-1400 or
direct at 913-221-1038. Please visit her website at

Lynne Weilert, LMSW
Lynne is a licensed and insured Mental
Health Professional. She received her Master’s Degree and became a
Psycho-therapist after spending decades in the business world in the field of pharmaceutical and hospital sales, consumer products, and business management. She is a member of the NASW and the Grief Support Network. Lynne has experienced many of the life challenges faced by her clients and combines her personal life experience and professional knowledge to provide a friendly, thoughtful and interactive approach to treating clients facing serious illness, Depression and Anxiety, Bi-Polar Disorder, OCD, Panic and Personality
Disorders, Grief and Loss, and various Marital and
Family Issues that may cause stress and concern.

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