Once cancer explodes into your world, you’ll find yourself struggling with how to deal with bad news is pretty consistently. With cancer, the hits just seem to keep coming.
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I recently lost my dad after a 21-month battle with Lung Cancer. It was the most devastating day of my entire life.
Since then, anytime someone is diagnosed, I find myself paralyzed… right back to those first few weeks of “unknown” and that panic that pretty much eats you alive.
Cancer is terrifying.
No matter how strong you are, this will knock you right down to the ground. It’s traumatizing and everything is happening so fast, that you barely have time to breathe.
Once the cancer bomb drops into your world, things get really crazy. Thinking ahead about how to deal with bad news before it comes helped us get through a few sticky situations.
The conversations with your Oncologist are long, emotionally charged and totally overwhelming.
And, as you’re sitting there trying to process everything and figure out how the hell you are going to deal with this… there is information and directions flying at you from every angle.
Let’s be honest, you can’t really hear any of that.
All of that important stuff is just a bunch of “noise” trying to overpower the horrific thoughts that are running through your head. I’ve been there. You’re trying to listen, but the fear takes over.
And it doesn’t get any better after the diagnosis.
I’ve come to realize this is what cancer is…
Some of the most terrifying conversations you’ve ever had in your life constantly running through your head and becoming even more horrific as the fear and your mind work together to manipulate your perception of what’s actually happening.
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How to deal with bad news during cancer.
Find Some Perspective
It helped me with how to deal with bad news when you focus on what’s really happening. I’m not saying the situation is good, but you have survived a thousand challenges in your life, and this is just one more being thrown at you.
While doctors can give you estimated time frames for how much time your loved one has left, or statistics for their chances of beating this based on the history of other people…
God is the only one who knows what is actually going to happen here.
The doctors can make an educated guess, but it should not be taken as gospel.
My dad was given “days to weeks” as a life expectancy and we fought the battle for 21 months.
HE made the decision to stop treatment after some pretty serious complications arose, so there is no telling how much longer we would have been able to keep going.
Regardless, it was a lot longer than “expected.”
Don’t panic and don’t give up because no one, except God can actually know what’s going to happen here.
Get The Information You Need Organized
When cancer is involved there is literally a TON of information flying at you from every direction. Important communication, directions and emergency information that you’ll need to access quickly.
This is life-altering stuff, so you need the correct information and you need it fast.
Within the first few weeks of my dad’s diagnosis, we had STACKS of paperwork to go through any time we were looking for something we needed.
So of course, we lost a disk that we needed to schedule our first appointment at Memorial Sloan Kettering in the mess (I know, shocking!?!). After we spent hours searching for the disk and then a few days to have it replaced and get it to Sloan, we decided we needed a better system.
We established a quick and easy system to organize medical information…
- NO more scrambling around looking through stacks of papers.
- Forget spending hours trying to find that one page.
- NO more lost instructions that you desperately need right now.
The Cancer Binder Pack can help you get organized in less than an hour and stay that way in a matter of minutes. As we were learning how to deal with bad news, we were also learning how to get our sh@t together!
This easy to follow system will save you hours of scrambling around searching for paperwork.
And we will walk you through the whole system step-by-step so you can do it yourself.
The Cancer Binder Pack includes…
So, you can avoid the anxiety that comes from not being able to find what you’re looking for, and save that stress for something much more important. ????
Don’t Forget to Breathe
To close my eyes and take a deep breath.
That one little action gives you a 2-second time frame to pause and just enough of a “break” to recalculate.
A huge (and unfortunate part) of an Oncologists job is to deliver heartbreaking news to people, so they will totally understand if you need a minute (or 10!) to collect yourself.
Take it. Take that minute to breathe and collect yourself as much as you can.
This is a huge benefit when you’re focusing on how to deal with bad news of any kind.
Bring in someone else who can listen
As strange as it sounds, it is almost impossible for you to hear anything important after a bomb has dropped into the room.
“The cancer is spreading”, “treatment is not working”, “emergency blood levels”…
I am an excellent caregiver, but I can remember appointments where I swear, my anxiety was off the charts and I totally shut down and didn’t hear anything at all. Bringing someone to help you is another good strategy for how to deal with bad news.
Cancer involves life-altering discussions that are amplified by panic and fear and are so stressful (and emotional) that your ability to actively listen pretty much flies out the window.
And it is SO important that you have the right information, options, and next steps.
Bring someone you trust to listen. Someone who is involved but not as close to the situation as you are who can help you get the information you need.
Someone who can…
- Provide an extra set of ears.
- Take notes.
- Ask questions.
- Clarify information.
Having another set of ears at any appointment (because you never actually know when the bad news is coming) is just one more protective measure you can put into place to make sure that your loved one is getting the best possible treatment.
Don’t Make ANY Major Decisions Until You Have All the Facts
This is a terrible time for ANYONE to make any major decisions because you’re running solely on emotion and adrenaline. This is a good time to just breathe and get through the moment.
We had an awful situation where my dad decided to stop treatment (and I cried for a week) after one of these conversations. You can read the full story here, but the bottom line is we completely jumped the gun!
Until you have had a long and thorough discussion (where you are focused and listening) with the doctor about…
- The current status
- Treatment and options
- Additional consultations
- A plan
Then you should not make any permanent decisions.
What you should do is, focus on how to deal with bad news and…
Make An Appointment As Soon As Possible
Schedule a time to meet with the doctor when everything is not as emotionally intense as it is right now. This way, decisions can be made with all of the facts and a much clearer head.
It will give you and your loved one time to process everything (you did manage to hear) and put you in a better place to discuss and process where things are at right now…
This appointment will be the time to ask and clarify any questions such as…
- What is the best course of action?
- How optimistic are you that this is going to work?
- What does this look like 6 months from now?
- A year from now?
- What are the next steps?
- Are there any clinical trials that we would be a candidate for?
- What is the recommended plan?
There is no right way or wrong way for how to deal with bad news, but working through the steps above will give you the best shot at working through one of those horrific conversations as best you can.
P.S. If you’re struggling to get all of this information organized we can help! The Cancer Binder pack gives you step by step instructions to figure out what’s important and create a space to organize it so you always have what you need when you need it, and the best part is it’s free.
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