Advice For Cancer Patients: 5 Truths Every Patient Should Know

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a shock like few others. Your mind races with thoughts like “what does this mean for me?” and “am I going to be okay?” Well, here’s some advice for cancer patients. 

Shortly after, most people enter a process known as the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, eventually, acceptance. Moving through the stages can be a difficult, emotional journey, which is why every cancer patient should hear these five truths as they embark. 


Advice For Cancer Patients

In the course of treating thousands of cancer patients over the years, I’ve seen these factors make the realization and processing of the grieving stages work toward better outcomes and eventually lead to empowerment. Hopefully, this can make the journey easier for you, too. 

Truth #1: Emotional Advice For Cancer Patients: The Stages of Grief are Real 

The stages of grief as originally written by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross are real, normal, and not a sign of human frailty. In fact, you’re wired to process large shocks this way. 

When people instead try to fight the stages, they tend to struggle more with their diagnosis. They feel more anger, stress, frustration, and fear, all of which can exact a heavy emotional and physical toll on the patient. That’s why it’s in your best interest to embrace the process. 

Honoring the stages and working with them will help you reach a more positive outcome sooner. Just as the stages are real, so is the mind-body connection. When you think positive thoughts, your biology responds in kind to promote healing and wellness. When you think negative thoughts, you experience negative physical reactions that make healing harder. 


Truth #2: It’s Okay to Move Through the Stages in Your Own Way

Different people may choose different words to describe the phases of this process, but most people go through them in the same order: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. 

However, you may process them in a different order or move rapidly through one and not the other. There can be “cycles” or “grief within grief,” and this is completely normal.

Although there are predictable steps in the process, you may know where you will take longer to process (or it may surprise you). My advice for cancer patients is to understand that the goal is to work through each stage in your own way and keep moving toward acceptance. Moving, processing, and growing are the important parts. You will not do this like others, and that is perfectly normal.


Truth #3: Your Loved Ones are Going Through Their Own Version, Too

When you’re going through the stages of grief, your loved ones are, too. Their emotional journey will be similar to yours but at their own pace and in their own way. 

Those around you may not realize this will happen. Often, they know they have shock and sadness but do not realize they have to process the entire diagnosis, change in life, and relationships as well. 

Knowing that your loved ones will go through these stages often helps you, the patient, to understand others’ reactions as well as to help or suggest help for them.


Truth #4: Acceptance is Not Resignation

This is one of the most important pieces of advice for cancer patients. You might hesitate to accept your diagnosis because it feels like giving in, but it’s not resignation. 

The act of acceptance is embracing the reality of the journey and all it encompasses while also knowing that you have control over your responses to and interpretation of the process. 

Acceptance allows you to reset and move on to an empowered, proactive, and progressive state, which, in my experience helping thousands of cancer patients, is healthier and associated with better outcomes throughout the journey.


Truth #5: A Counselor Can Help You Process Your Feelings

Even if you’re a person who usually prefers to “go it alone,” a counselor—by which I mean a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, spiritual advisor, or one of the many other helpers—can facilitate your emotional cancer journey.  

The important thing when choosing a counselor is that you resonate with them and that they resonate with you. Maybe you already have a relationship with a counselor, but if not, know that the process of finding the right person takes time. 

Ask friends or professionals for referrals (your healthcare team will likely have many), and work with someone you feel you resonate with.


Advice For Cancer Patients: Make Your Cancer Journey Easier

A cancer diagnosis is never easy on the patient or their loved ones, but by embracing these truths and adopting a positive outlook, you can ease some of the struggle. 

Remember, the stages of grief are real, and so is the effect your mind has on your body. As you move through this process, honor the power of your mind to influence your health. Move through the stages in your own way as you actively pursue acceptance. If you or your loved ones need guidance in this process, skilled professionals are there to help. Simply find one who resonates and connects with you. 

Accepting these truths and your cancer diagnosis isn’t defeat—it’s making the choice to move forward and work with the realities of life. 

For more advice on improving your quality of life when you have cancer, you can find Cancer: The Journey from Diagnosis to Empowerment on Amazon.

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Dr. Paul Anderson, NMD

Dr. Paul S. Anderson is a nationally recognized educator and clinician who has decades of experience with cancer and complex chronic illness. As head of the interventional arm of a human trial funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Dr. Anderson oversaw research into integrative therapies for cancer patients. Dr. Anderson was the founder of a number of clinics specializing in the care of people with cancer and chronic illness and is now focusing his efforts on training other physicians and writing. He is the co-author of Outside the Box Cancer Therapies, with Dr. Mark Stengler and the anthology Success Breakthroughs, with Jack Canfield.