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Carolyn Hax: After cancer diagnosis, a scary wait for more news

Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi Carolyn: I found out three days ago that I have cancer. (God that is scary just typing it.) I have a consult on Monday with an oncologist and a surgeon. So far I’ve been managing to keep busy at work and keep myself from freaking out now because I just don’t know enough yet.

As the consult gets closer I’m having more trouble controlling my emotions. How do I get through the weekend to Monday morning? I’m feeling my heart start to race just typing this.

Scared: Oh, ugh, I’m sorry. Bad news is bad enough without added suspense.

The way you get through the weekend is to … get through. Seriously. I think we all got some unwelcome practice at this during the worst of the pandemic, and its lessons apply in this context:

First, you figure out what you need to do — like work, bills, chores, though streamlining is fine, too, if it helps. People prefer different things here, and this is as personal as it gets.

Next, you see what time you have left to fill after the requirements. Then you fill it with your most reliable distractions and, if possible, deliver a hit of optimism to help keep you afloat.

The go-tos for most are art and nature — nothing like streaming a great show or getting outside — but emotional transcendence is, again, maybe the most personal thing about us, so I won’t pretend to know what will work for you. Getting outside yourself can help, too — giving to others in some way.

Or, this is going to sound the opposite of soothing, but if you have clutter at home, hit it now so you don’t have to look at it when you feel your sickest.

Take a deep breath and give yourself what you need, without apology.

Regardless of what you do, Monday will come. I hope it comes with the best possible news.

· I’ve been there. You get through it one task, one day, one hour or even one minute at a time.

· Speaking as someone who’s wrestled two types of C to a draw: Remind yourself that it isn’t a definite death sentence. While waiting for action orders I turned on Motown and cleaned my refrigerator, buried myself in Amelia Peabody books, and watched the original BBC Poirot series.

· Depending on your treatment, your taste buds might get a bit off-kilter for a while. So this might be a weekend to revel in favorite flavors. Also, if there are any places where the scent is important to you — mountains, seashore, flowers in — take them in, if you have the energy. Sending love and good thoughts your way whether you do this or stay in bed with Netflix all weekend. You can’t go wrong.

· I learned (by doing it wrong, obviously) the importance of picking the right people to talk to about it. I had people totally blow it off or make thoughtless comments, which made me feel worse-er. I wish I’d chosen based on their own emotional makeup.

· Visit cancersupportcommunity.org right now and take a look at the resources. They are especially good for people like you who have just been diagnosed and don’t know where to turn. They also have a 7-day-a-week helpline staffed by real people who will be happy to talk to you and help you this time and beyond. CSC has programs for every stage of diagnosis and treatment and is for patients, caregivers and families. Good luck.

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