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Coping with Cancer, Part One

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If it hasn’t happened yet, sometime soon, you or someone you love will face cancer. Here are some steps to help you through the ordeal.

According to the National Cancer Institute, 40% of those born today will develop cancer at some time in their lives. If I am in that 40%, how will I deal with the diagnosis? How can I help the 40% of my friends and family who face cancer? As a cardiologist, I see a lot of patient with a serious cardiac diagnosis. The process of dealing with any serious illness is similar. Let me share the story of one fictitious individual to illustrate how to deal with a serious diagnosis. I will share the story in three parts.

Judy’s Story

Judy typifies the saying that “50 is the new 40.” Since her last child went away to college, she has thrown herself into new activities. While continuing to work at an architectural firm, she participates in an aerobics class three times a week. On weekends, she and her husband travel all over the country to see their son play college basketball.

One Friday afternoon, a week after a routine mammogram, Judy received a telephone call from her doctor, asking her to come in for an appointment that afternoon. She sat for far too long in the waiting room, and then sat in the brightly lit, sterile-smelling exam room for what seemed an eternity. Finally, her doctor came in and sat down.

“There is a spot on your mammogram that is probably a cancer. We won’t know for sure until you have a biopsy. I have scheduled an appointment for you with Dr. Karen Hancock on Monday.”

The Longest Weeks of Her Life

Sometimes, waiting is worse than getting bad news. At least when we have bad news, we can begin to strategize and make plans. With uncertainty, we imagine every possible outcome from “no cancer” to “you have less than six months to live.” Our hearts run around in circles touching every possibility. It is no wonder we stay dizzy and shaken.

After she left the doctor’s office, Judy met her husband, Mark, for dinner at their favorite restaurant. Ordinarily, the smell of fresh bread and the sound of quiet conversation would make her feel warm and comfortable.

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.