The shock of diagnosis

The shock of diagnosis

The verdict is in: “You have cancer.” Your reaction: “Why me? What will happen now? How do I announce it to others?” The word “cancer” is still frightening, taboo and equated with death. It is seen as an invisible enemy to be eradicated. In this word there is the idea of something bad inside, the belief of being responsible for the illness and the notion of a disease without a cure. So what is it, exactly?
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It is actually incorrect to talk about cancer, when in fact we should speak of “cancers.” There are over one hundred types of cancers, each with its own features, progression, and response to treatments.  And while cancer is a complex disease, it is now possible to live with it, thanks to medical breakthroughs.

Living with cancer, however, is an extremely emotional experience. Throughout the cancer journey – diagnosis, testing, treatments, side effects, medical follow-up – varied and intense emotions are perfectly normal and expected. 

The emotional challenge that comes with a diagnosis of cancer is mainly due to the complexity of the disease and its associated psychological stress (N-U-T-S): the Novelty of the situation you are thrust into, the Unpredictability of the success of treatment, the Threat to your ego posed by the changes brought about by the illness and the loss of your sense of control (socio-economic, relational, physical, etc.) over the situation.

Dealing with the emotional challenge

Everyone has their own way of dealing with the emotional challenges of living with cancer. Both for the affected person and those close to their entourage, one way of adapting is to identify the greatest source of psychological stress among the four themes of N-U-T-S. Then, as far as possible, to find a way to lessen it.

One effective strategy is to ask your doctor questions in order to better understand the situation, to understand each step and participate in treatment decisions. Another strategy is to ​​cultivate the notion of life by planning small projects and pleasures, either alone or with friends and family. These two actions will increase your sense of control and offset the severity of the psychological stress associated with cancer.

It is important to be vigilant: emotions must regulate the psychological stress without being intrusive or destructive. It is equally possible that the emotions are exacerbated by the secondary neurophysiologic changes associated with cancer treatments. It is crucial to talk about it and to be well-informed.

Cancer is a complex disease, and it is unrealistic to try and eradicate the associated stress and emotions. However, it is possible to learn to cope with the uncertainty and to cultivate life.

Call the Info-Cancer Line at 1-800-363-0063 to discuss your concerns, identify the source of your stress, get advice, find resources, etc.


Need information, a listening ear, resources and to share?
Our Info-cancer staff is there to:

  • Answer your questions;
  • Refer you to resources in your area;
  • Provide you with useful documentation;
  • Put you in touch with someone who has gone through the same ordeal, whether you or a loved one.

Borrow one or more books on the subject for free:

Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm
1-800-363-0063 (free of charge)  |


Marika Audet-Lapointe, Ph.D. Oncology psychologist

PSYmedicis Onco-psychology clinic.

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