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6 tips to cope with a cancer diagnosis

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newly diagnosed with cancer photo.JPGBy Christine Durlam and Amy LaMarca Lyon, social work counselors

When you're a newly diagnosed cancer patient, all the questions and concerns can be overwhelming.  

How will you tell your family and friends? Will your friends treat you differently? Will you have to quit your job? Who will take care of your kids?

It's normal to have these questions and thoughts. But it's important for you to know that you're not alone and that many others are facing these same challenges. 

Here are a few tips for coping with a new diagnosis of cancer.

Get informed
Be an active participant in your health care. Ask questions about your diagnosis and treatment plan, including what side effects to expect. 

If you have trouble remembering to ask questions, write them down and take them to your appointment. It also helps to have someone accompany you to appointments so you have a second set of ears.  

Get organized
Many patients organize their health information in a binder. You can include important numbers, names and addresses of your providers and a calendar with your scheduled appointments. 

At MD Anderson, patients have access to MyMDAnderson. This tool gives you online access to your health records and enables you to communicate with your medical team. 

You can also stop by The Learning Center and pick up a Personal Health Manager Folder from the American Cancer Society.  This is a great organizational tool that helps patients keep track of appointments, medication, test results, insurance, bills and other details related to your care.

Adopt a policy of open communication
Keep your family and friends informed and involved. Caregivers often say that they're not sure how to help. Assign tasks so they can feel involved. Appoint an information chief so that you are not always answering the same questions over and over. Or, start a blog to keep everyone updated. 

Ask a friend to make you dinner. Ask an older child to take out the trash. Remember, family and friends can be a source of great support for you and they oftentimes truly want to help.

Maintain a routine 
Patients often overlook everyday tasks as their focus shifts to medical needs. Maintaining a routine can help you regain a sense of control and normalcy. This is important as you adjust to new demands. 

Remain involved with work and leisure activities as much as you can. Maintain a healthy lifestyle to boost your energy and improve your quality of life. 
Focus on self care
It's important to set aside time for yourself. Some things you can practice on your own include: relaxation techniques such as mindfulness, self-hypnosis and, yoga.  

Journaling also can help relieve stress and allow you to express your emotions in a healthy way. When faced with a difficult decision, you can use your journal to list the pros and cons for each choice. 

Nurturing your spiritual health through prayer and meditation can be beneficial as well. 

Seek additional support
Social work counselors are here to help patients, families and caregivers. Whether you're newly diagnosed or have been dealing with cancer for a while, MD Anderson's social work counselors can help make this scary and stressful time more manageable. 

We offer individual, couples and family counseling. We also facilitate support groups throughout the institution. In addition, we can help you locate a local counselor, local support group or an online support community.  

To connect with a counselor, contact the Department of Social Work online or call 713-792-6195.

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