Carolyn Hax: After the cancer diagnosis, a scary wait for more news

Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi Carolyn: I found out three days ago that I have cancer. (God it’s scary just writing that.) I have a consultation on Monday with an oncologist and a surgeon. So far I’ve managed to stay busy at work and keep from freaking out now because I just don’t know enough yet.

As the consultation approaches, I have more trouble controlling my emotions. How will I get through the weekend until Monday morning? I can feel my heart starting to race just writing this.

Afraid: Ugh, I’m sorry. Bad news is bad enough without added excitement.

The way you get through the weekend is to… get through. Seriously. I think we all got a bit of unwanted practice on this during the worst pandemic, and the lessons apply in this context:

First you find out what you need to do – like work, bills, chores, although streamlining is fine too, if that helps. People prefer different things here and this is as personal as it gets.

You then see how much time you have left to fill according to the requirements. Then you fill it with your most reliable distractions and, if possible, deliver a shot of optimism to keep you afloat.

Go-tos for most people are art and nature — nothing like streaming a great show or getting outside — but emotional transcendence is, again, perhaps the most personal thing about us, so I won’t pretend to know what will work for you. Getting outside yourself can also help – giving to others in some way.

Or, this is going to sound the opposite of comforting, but if you have a mess at home, tap it now so you don’t have to look at it when you’re feeling sick the most.

Take a deep breath and give yourself what you need, unapologetically.

Whatever you do, Monday will come. I hope it comes with the best possible news.

· I have been there. You get through it one task, one day, one hour or even one minute at a time.

· Speaking as someone who has fought two Type C’s to a draw: Remind yourself that it is not a certain death sentence. While I waited for action orders I turned on Motown and cleaned out my fridge, buried myself in Amelia Peabody books and watched the original BBC Poirot series.

· Depending on your treatment, your taste buds may be slightly impaired for a while. So this can be a weekend to enjoy favorite flavors. Also, if there are any places where the scent is important to you – mountains, beach, flowers – take them in, if you have the energy. Sending love and good thoughts your way whether you’re doing this or lying in bed watching Netflix all weekend. You can’t go wrong.

· I learned (obviously by doing it wrong) the importance of choosing the right people to talk to about it. I had people completely blow it off or make thoughtless comments, which made me feel worse. I wish I had chosen based on their own emotional makeup.

· Visit cancersupportcommunity.org right now and take a look at the resources. They are especially good for people like you who have just been diagnosed and don’t know where to turn. They also have a 7-day helpline staffed by real people who will be happy to talk to you and help you this time and beyond. CSC has programs for all stages of diagnosis and treatment and is for patients, caregivers and families. Good luck.

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