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Dealing With Cancer

Medically reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD

If you've been diagnosed with cancer, or know someone who has, you're not alone. Most teens who get cancer survive and return to their everyday lives.

What Should I Know About Cancer?

The word cancer refers to many diseases, not one. What these diseases have in common is that the body's cells behave abnormally. In someone who has cancer, cells grow and divide uncontrollably and can eventually form tumors.

Cancer has its own language, and non-medical people may not understand its terms and phrases. If there's anything you don't understand, ask for explanations. Doctors and nurses are happy to explain things in a way that makes sense to their patients.

Another way to make sense of cancer is to read about it. If you find information in your research that is different from what your doctor is telling you, be sure to ask your doctor about it.

People who are living with cancer and their families often find it helpful and comforting to share their experiences and learn what others have gone through. A variety of supportive environments are available for this — everything from Internet chat areas on cancer sites to local support groups where people meet face to face.

Ask your cancer care team to recommend some cancer support resources. No two patients have the exact same cancer experiences, but it can feel good to know you're not alone.

How Should I Take Care of Myself Physically?

People with cancer usually have a specially trained medical team working with them to fight the disease.

People who are having chemotherapy or radiation therapy may need help eating right because the side effects of these treatments can include loss of appetite and nausea. It may help to talk with a dietitian, a professional who can create a nutrition plan geared to your specific needs.

Exercise can also help a person stay healthy during recovery. If you're being treated for cancer, your cancer care team can let you know whether you should exercise, how much, and whether physical therapy might help.

When you can exercise, find out which types will help to increase your strength and stamina. Even gentle walking can go a long way to helping people with cancer feel better overall.

How Should I Deal With My Emotions?

It's natural for people who have learned they have cancer to feel many emotions. Anger, fear, sadness, and anxiety are common reactions to having a serious illness.

Feelings and worries can seem overwhelming if they get bottled up inside. If these feelings continue, it's important to get help sorting out your emotions. Some of the professionals you can talk to are social workers, clergy, psychologists, and psychiatrists. You can also share your feelings with trusted adults, such as relatives or members of a cancer support group.

Mindfulness-based meditation can be soothing and become a source of social support. Ask a social worker or a member of the care team for a list of nearby programs or try an online program at home.

It can really help to get to know other teens who have cancer. You can exchange information and ideas and learn how others your age have coped.

Above all, remember that although you may have cancer, it's not your identity. It's an illness you are trying to overcome.

How Can I Help Someone Who Has Cancer?

If a friend or relative has cancer, the most important thing you can do is to be yourself! Many people who have cancer say that the people they love begin to treat them differently or stay away completely.

It's natural to feel frightened, anxious, or even angry when someone you know has cancer. But don't let that keep you from being there for your friend or loved one. You may need help dealing with your strong emotions, and you can find it in many places. Hospitals often have counseling groups for families and friends of people with cancer, or you can talk to a trusted adult for support and reassurance.

A friend or family member with cancer might be on an emotional roller coaster. Being in the hospital or having to stay home a lot to rest can be isolating and make someone feel lonely. Most people with cancer like having their friends and family around, even if the visits are short and there isn't much to say. If you're not sure whether to visit, ask.

Even if your schedule is very busy, you can keep in touch in other ways, like using social media, sending cards, talking on the phone, texting, or using email. It will do a lot to lift the spirits of someone who is dealing with cancer.

Keep in mind that the person you care about is still the same person you've always known and loved.

Medically reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: January 2019