Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis


By Katherine Baker, LCSW, LCAC – January 6, 2022 –

During my time as a Youth First Social Worker, I have worked with many students impacted by cancer. This school year has been no exception, as I was diagnosed with breast cancer myself in July 2021. Here are a few ideas you may find helpful when coping with a cancer diagnosis.

When first learning about a cancer diagnosis, you may be scared and confused. After the initial shock has worn off, start reading and asking questions. There are many educational books and articles available to help you understand the type of cancer you or a loved one is facing. There are support groups in the community that can help as well. Check them out!

When going to doctor appointments, take another person with you who can assist with taking notes and asking questions. The person with cancer can be overwhelmed at times, so having someone else there for support is important. Bring a notebook and pen with questions you have thought of.

I began keeping a daily/monthly calendar of all doctor appointments and tests. It has been a good way for me to look back to check dates for billing purposes. I also use the calendar as a journal where I record how I feel on chemo days, as some days are better than others.

Keep in mind that some people may not be sure how to react to someone else’s cancer diagnosis. I told my Youth First supervisors, as well as school administrators and my co-workers, about my diagnosis at the start of the school year. I wanted them to be aware of what I would be going through, especially as I knew I would be losing my hair.

I met with students individually to determine if they would be okay working with me. Some of them had parents or family members with cancer, and I did not want to cause additional trauma or stress. Most were receptive, and some check on me as much as I check on them.

Develop a support system that includes family, friends, church community members, neighbors, peers, and co-workers. You will have your oncologist and other medical support staff guiding you through treatment, but having the support of loved ones is just as important.

I can’t do it all on my own, so I find it comforting to have others support me physically, mentally, and spiritually. While going through chemotherapy, my co-workers made goody bags on a regular basis filled with items such as Chapstick, hand and body lotion, puzzle books, snacks, etc. Cards of encouragement are always welcome; everyone loves getting mail!  

Finally, if you know someone with cancer, ask them how you can help. It could be just listening to them, sharing a meal, helping with transportation to appointments, going on walks together, or even helping with housework. Most importantly, be flexible and patient with someone going through their cancer journey.