A cancer diagnosis comes as a huge shock. You’re grappling with many emotions, and may find yourself in a stressed, fight-or-flight state of mind. “It’s overwhelming,” says Michael Ryan, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist with Henry Ford Health. “When you go into that first appointment after receiving your diagnosis, there’s a ton of information to take in, and it can be difficult to absorb.”
Working through your fears and anxieties isn’t easy, but there are a few ways you can prepare yourself for your first doctor’s appointment. Here, Dr. Ryan shares tips to help you cope.
- Try not to surf the Internet before talking to your medical team. “It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole, and that’s not helpful, especially when you don’t know whether your sources of information are reliable,” says Dr. Ryan. “It’s best to let your physician guide you. He or she can also share where you can find trusted information.”
- Write down questions ahead of time. “Some people thrive on having a lot of specific information, while others become overwhelmed,” says Dr. Ryan. “For example, some want to know their cancer prognosis, and others don’t. Define what you want to know, and write down a list of questions for your physician to answer.” Questions can include how your diagnosis and treatment will affect your daily life, whether there’s a special diet you’ll need to be on, and costs of treatment.
- As visitor restrictions allow, bring a friend or family member with you. “Having a support person to listen and write information down is really important while talking to your doctor,” says Dr. Ryan. “Then you can review the notes later and fill in any gaps. Some people may only absorb about half of what’s discussed, so if you have another set of ears, that’s better.”
- Work to maintain healthy habits. As much as you’re able, eat a healthy diet, exercise and get enough sleep. It will help keep you feeling more balanced.
- Safely connect with close friends and family. Talking with supportive relatives or friends can help you process worrisome thoughts and raw emotions. Also, try to engage in as many normal activities as possible, even though you may be distracted at times. It’s normal to have periods of tearfulness and even some sleepless nights, especially in the early days after diagnosis. “You don’t want cancer to consume every moment of every day,” says Dr. Ryan. “If you sit around thinking about it all of the time, you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed.”
Dr. Michael Ryan is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the care of cancer patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.