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Understanding Your Diagnosis

A diagnosis of cancer can be overwhelming and confusing. When you are first diagnosed, you may be in shock. You might not be able to concentrate on the news your doctor is giving you. This is normal.

You may have a lot of questions. You may not know what questions to ask, but it is important that you understand what a diagnosis of cancer means for you.

Talk with your healthcare team about your diagnosis and the different treatment options that may be helpful for you. Please tell your doctors if you are confused or do not understand something they tell you. You can ask questions during your appointments. Your healthcare team will give you information about cancer and support services that you may find helpful.

You can also find reliable information about the type of cancer you have and links to other useful sources of information on this website.

Getting a second opinion

The complex nature of cancer means that there is not always only one way to for it to be treated. A second opinion may help you to feel more confident about your diagnosis and treatment options.

A second opinion may help to:

  • confirm your diagnosis
  • give you extra details about your cancer
  • give you a different perspective from another cancer expert
  • give you alternative treatment options that you had not yet considered

You might think it will be awkward to tell your doctor you would like a second opinion. But don’t worry. Getting a second opinion is common and healthcare professionals are used to this. In fact, your doctor may help arrange an appointment with another specialist they feel is expert in your type of cancer. Either specialist will be happy to lead your treatment if that’s what you decide. This can be an important part of you making a decision. A second opinion may help you feel more comfortable about the treatment plan your doctor recommended. It can also give you the chance to hear about a different treatment option. Knowing about all your options will help you feel more confident about the decisions you make.

What does the diagnosis mean for me?

Being diagnosed with cancer can be life-changing for you, your family and friends.

When you are first diagnosed with cancer, your cancer care team will speak with you about your treatment options and what you can expect. You might need to:

  • take time off work
  • travel to your treatment appointments
  • arrange for transport as you may not be able to drive yourself home from treatment
  • ask your healthcare team about travel assistance, especially if you live in a country area
  • organise extra help around the house, or care for young kids or other family members
  • ask friends or family members to come with you to your treatment to look after you and help with things like filling in forms and keeping track of the advice you are given

It’s important to take time to think about your next steps and make the choices that are right for you. Your healthcare team can discuss options with you and help you to think about your decisions. The best person to help you may vary at different times, but often it will be a social worker,  care co-ordinator, psychologist or specialist nurse.

Being diagnosed with cancer might change how you are feeling. You may feel worried, sad or helpless during this time. It’s important to know that these feelings are normal.

It can help to speak with your family and friends about how you are feeling or talk with a psychologist who specialises in caring for people with cancer. It’s important to know that you do not have to face cancer alone.

Your healthcare team will be able to put you in touch with patient support groups, in your area or online, so that you can talk with people in similar situations to your own.

You can also get support from the Cancer Council Information and Support hotline by calling 13 11 20 or visiting the Cancer Council online:

Talking to family and friends

Talking to your family and friends about your cancer diagnosis can be hard. Having people close to you who know about your cancer can help to ease your worries or fears. It’s important to know that you don’t have to face cancer alone.

Cancer Council Australia offers support and some helpful advice for talking to others about your cancer diagnosis.

Canteen is an organisation that has support for adolescents and young adults whose parents have cancer or who are helping to care for parents with cancer.

Talking to your children about your cancer diagnosis can be hard. How and what you tell your children may depend on their age. Cancer Council NSW has helpful advice for talking about cancer with your children.

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