How to Cope with a Cancer Diagnosis

There are few words anyone can be told that are scarier than, “You have cancer.” Niki Barr knows this for sure. She is a Ph.D. who has dedicated her career to working with cancer patients in all stages of the disease, along with their family members, caregivers and friends. Her new book is called Emotional Wellness: The Other Half of Treating Cancer, and in it she explains how patients can put together effective strategies for helping them move forward through cancer.

A while ago I wrote a popular post called What to Do When a Friend has Cancer, so when I heard about this book I was particularly intrigued. Being at an age where I know more and more people who are battling the disease on some form, it is a topic I think we all have some vested interest. I have also become a huge believer in the mind-body connection, so how we battle the disease emotionally may be in many ways just as important as how we battle it medically.

In the book Dr. Barr describes the emotional side of treatment to guide you through diagnosis, medical treatment, grieving, and life after cancer. It is the diagnosis we dread most and one that so many of us will face at some point in our lives. Each stage has its own set of tools for coping with the fear and anxiety that accompany the diagnosis.  While Dr. Barr goes into much more detail, here are a few of my takeaways:

  • Keep tangible items on-hand, such as a binder notebook or index cards for taking notes at doctor appointments and medical tests. Don’t try to remember it all. Write it down instead. You may also want to keep a journal for documenting your thoughts and feelings, as well as music or meditation sessions on an iPod or CD’s.
  • Replace “what if” thoughts and negative self-talk with affirmations and positive “what can” talk.
  • Seek out a therapist or support group, and focus on your nutrition, sleep and physical wellness in areas where you have control.
  • Understand that while you are focusing on your diagnosis, the world around you is still going on. Feeling alone is a normal part of coping with cancer, but even though at times you may feel alone, you are not alone.
  • Have a daily goal for yourself. It may be a small task or a more strenuous one depending on where you are in treatment. Accomplish one goal each day to stay positive and to remind yourself what you can do.
  • Find a theme song, an inspirational quote, or something to keep you feeling positive and motivated.

For a more detailed roadmap of ways to cope with cancer, you can purchase Emotional Wellness: The Other Half of Treating Cancer at

How to Cope with a Cancer Diagnosis

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book to review, though I was under no obligation to write about it. All opinions are 100% my own and there are affiliate links in this post.


  1. That is my worst fear. Glad to know there are some good resources in the event of such unfortunate news.

  2. One disadvantage of getting older is knowing more and more people my age getting diagnosed with cancer :( Thanks for sharing. It’s one of those things where I think knowledge uis helpful but I hope I don’t need it!

  3. My grandmother had cancer several times and died from cancer. It’s always a shock and I’m glad that you are sharing this info on how to help cope. I wish that there were an easy cure for cancer. It’s so devastating.

  4. No matter how many times your are confronted with this disease, it never gets easier to deal with. One day I dream of living in a cancer free world. Until then, finding your support system and coping skills helps a lot.

  5. Thank you for this post, Jessica. This is a book that I honestly hope I never have to read…….I know this post will help people and this book is very needed.

  6. I lost a dear friend to breast cancer and a book like this might have brought her some comfort. Those are words I pray to never hear myself.

  7. One of the worst things that I can imagine. Thank you for this post Jessica.

  8. A dear friend’s mom as well as my uncle just heard those very words. I’ll be sharing and using this to get through and to help them too.

  9. This is a topic that scares me deeply. Thanks for tangible ways to deal with a diagnosis should it occur.

  10. Unfortunately both my mom and dad heard those words which makes me fearful of hearing them as well. Thanks for sharing tips.

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