Coping with a cancer diagnosis

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A cancer diagnosis is difficult, and waiting for test results can be stressful. Learn the answers to some of the common questions other teens with cancer have about their diagnosis.

Key points

  • There is no right or wrong way to feel or act when you learn that you have cancer.
  • Being diagnosed with cancer does not mean that you are going to die. Each cancer type is different and survival rates are increasing all the time.
  • Talk to your health-care team about how they can help you cope with a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

How should I feel?

Most teens say that the days and weeks during and after diagnosis are a really difficult time. Waiting for tests can be very stressful and when you finally find out it is cancer, it’s normal to feel a lot of different emotions all at once.

When you find out you have cancer, there is no "right" way to feel.

For instance, you might feel shocked. Some teens say they did not really believe it at first or felt like they were living someone else’s life.

Cancer is not something you usually expect to happen when you are a teenager. You may feel angry, sad, confused, scared and many more emotions. You may worry about the future and what will happen. You might wonder how you and your family are going to get through it. You might worry about telling the rest of your family, your friends or people at school that you have cancer. You might worry about pain, feeling sick, missing out on being a normal teenager, or how you are going to look. All of these reactions are hard to deal with, but they are totally normal.

Am I going to die?

Most teens with cancer think about death at some point and you may wonder whether having cancer means you are going to die. Cancer is definitely a very serious disease, but being diagnosed with cancer does not automatically mean that you’re going to die!

The number of people who are successfully treated and survive cancer is growing all the time. Now, 80% to 85% of children with cancer survive, although sometimes they need more than one round of treatment. There are several reasons for increased survival rates.

  • Cancer specialists have a better understanding of and know more about cancers and how to treat them than they did even a few years ago.
  • More research means better and more effective treatments are available for cancer.
  • It is easier to cure cancer in young people than in older people.

How should I deal with a cancer diagnosis?

Just as there is no "right" way to feel, there is no "right" way to act either. Some people want to learn as much as they can about cancer right away. Others want to learn more slowly. Some people immediately tell everyone they know. Others tell only the people closest to them. Some people are very open about their feelings. Others are more private. How you deal with your diagnosis is up to you. What is important is that you choose healthy ways to cope. You will learn more about how to cope with cancer in the sections on Managing your symptoms and Managing stress and emotions.

You are not alone!

Being diagnosed with cancer can make you feel alone or as though others do not understand what you or your family are going through. It’s really important to know that you are not alone. Having cancer is a big deal, too big for someone to handle all by themselves.

Your cancer team has a lot of experience working with teens with cancer. They are there to listen and support you as well as treat the cancer. Social workers and psychologists can help you cope with cancer. You will learn more about these people and what they do in the section on Cancer treatments and support therapies. You can also talk to your doctors and nurses.

Cancer can be really hard, but you can get through it. Remember: you are not alone.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019