Coping with Cancer: Confusion

25 Feb

I’m beginning a series of posts related to my experience dealing with cancer, Coping with Cancer: 20 Ways to Find Calm in the Midst of a Health Storm. I won’t be posting these every day, so if you’ve not been affected by cancer and don’t really feel these posts will be relevant to you – no worries. I will be posting other info that I hope will be useful to you. However, much of what will be included in these posts would be relevant to anyone facing a significant health challenge.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Coping with cancer is a learned art that evolves throughout your diagnosis, treatment, and – I’m guessing – for years to come. I’m less than two years into this ride, but I’ve experienced enough of it to know that my coping mechanisms are constantly changing.

There are as many different opinions on how to go about this as there are people with cancer. No one way works best for each individual. The method, process, and steps involved are unique to each person, form of cancer, life experience, and religious beliefs. It would be great if there were a 12-step process to guide you through from beginning to end, but there’s not. We all have to stumble, climb, and crawl our way through our new reality.

There are, however, some things I’ve learned in the past year+ that have helped me deal with this ugly, unkind, unwanted diagnosis – and I’m hoping they will help you, too.

If you’re not confused,
you’re not paying attention.
Tom Peters


The first emotion I felt was confusion. Truthfully, before I heard the word lymphoma, I didn’t really know what it was. I thought it was a form of cancer, but did not know enough about to know whether I should freak out or remain calm. Just thinking about it makes my hands tremble a bit as I tap on this keyboard.

The way the moment takes place may be different for everyone, but the emotions and the physical reactions it evokes within each of us are undoubtedly similar: fear, anxiety, nausea, heart palpitations. And for me, just plain ‘ole confusion. “Really??? How in the world? What is lymphoma? Hmmpphh.”

What added to the confusion was that I was not told “You have _____. We will begin treatment next week.” My initial diagnosis was general – simply lymphoma. We had to wait weeks . . . correct that, months, for the “official” specific diagnosis.

There were three ways I dealt with the immediate confusion: 1) opened my Bible, 2) talked to my husband, family and close friends and 3) researched lymphoma. Two of them were helpful; the third was not.

For whatever was written
was given to us for our learning,
that through patience and comfort of the scriptures
we might have hope.
Romans 15:4

My Bible, my husband, family and close friends kept me grounded and prevented me from getting too far out into the fear stratosphere. It also reminded me how much I am loved and provided me with a soft place to land when my thoughts stopped racing and settled on reality. At this stage, researching lymphoma was not super helpful because I knew so little about my specific diagnosis. The research left me swinging between hopeful and utterly terrified. I decided until we knew more details, I needed to keep my Google searches to a minimum.

If you are a cancer patient, survivor, thriver, fighter, struggler, or coper – what was the first emotion you experienced after your diagnosis?



12 Responses to “Coping with Cancer: Confusion”

  1. Wendy van Eyck (@wendyvaneyck) February 25, 2013 at 4:56 am #

    Being in the midst of this journey with my husband who has Hodgkins Lymphoma I’d like to thank you for sharing this. I’m sure it’s not easy but it’s posts like this that remind us that we’re not alone!

  2. Jo Inglis (@Piano_Jo) February 25, 2013 at 6:38 am #

    Hi Rachel
    I found this post via Wendy, who has been a great friend. My non-christian brother has NH Lymphoma (out of respect I don’t tweet directly about him). My Dad went through and has been cleared of bowel cancer after mum died of Myeloma (bone marrow C) in 2008. Dad struggles to be supportive of my brother because he is still grieving for mum & he also struggles to accept help & support from me & my brother. Cancer is a travelling companion that really sucks!
    Thank you for sharing this to encourage others that they are not on their own. Am sure both sufferers and carers will benefit from reading. I look forward to reading about your journey.

  3. The Savvy Sister February 25, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    Great series Rachel! There are so many emotions that tent to take over when diagnosed. The first thing I probably felt was fear. But it didn’t last long

    • rachturner March 6, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

      Shock was near the top of my list, too. Kind of a stunned “I have what???”

  4. Nancy Arrighi February 25, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    I think my very first emotion after receiving my diagnosis while standing in my doctor’s personal office was shock/disbelief (this can’t be that bad/this can’t be happening to me feeling). However, as I was driving home, that quickly turned to fear/panic which I knew was from Satan telling me that I was going to die. When I arrived home, I was by myself and I pick up my Bible and walked around the house reading scripture out loud. I did this for about 45 minutes before I could get myself together in order to tell my Mom. I had a lot of different emotions in a short period of time.

    • rachturner March 6, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

      Looking back on it now, isn’t it funny how fast you/we transition from one emotion to the next during those first few hours and days?

  5. Cancer Warrior February 25, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    The word GRIEF comes to mind for me. I remember wailing “I’m going to die!” The next 6 months was a roller coaster of emotions.

    • rachturner March 6, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

      Roller coaster is such a true visual for what this ride is like. SO glad you are thriving today! :)

  6. sashirl February 26, 2013 at 12:58 am #

    Glad to meet up with you through Twitter, Rachel. I’ve been there with aggressive breast cancer. “You have cancer. You’ll need . . . ” Because I am an RN the doctors assumed I was an authority. Please visit my website for encouraging those in the cancer valley,

  7. ginny5817 August 18, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

    I felt helpless and scared but not just for me but for my family. I’m a stage IV colon/lung cancer survivor God bless u and thank u for sharing your story.

    • rachturner August 18, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

      Hi Ginny. I’m so sorry you are dealing with this! Cancer just sucks. I hate it so much. I know what you mean. I was afraid about what could happen to me, but I was sick over how hard it was on my family. Telling my husband, parents, and sisters was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Just hearing the fear and tears in their voices was so gut-wrenching. But, never forget, there is HOPE even with a stage IV diagnosis. There is ALWAYS hope. I am four years out from my diagnosis and doing well. The same can be true for you! Fight for your family! Fight for yourself! Don’t give up. And take it one day, or even one hour, at a time. Keep pushing through. I will be praying for you AND your family.

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