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The “Shock and Awe” of a cancer diagnosis

Today we have another great post from our guest blogger Joni Aldrich, author, speaker and radio show host. Happy Thanksgiving! So much to be thankful for this year.

When the word “cancer” is used in a sentence that’s associated with someone you love, it becomes surreal and bizarre. However—now more than ever—you can’t allow that to skew the important decisions ahead.

Until it hits home, when you hear of people with cancer, you think, “How awful.” In the back of your mind, you say a silent prayer: “Please, God, don’t ever let that happen to me or my family.” We offer prayers and to help in any way possible. I never expected my husband to be diagnosed, much less in his forties.
There’s more. Everything related to cancer treatment will move much slower than you think it should. If you’re an action person like I am, you will live in continuous frustration wanting to do something right now. From diagnosis to treatment and through to the hope of remission, it will seem like time stands still or goes way too fast. And, there are the emotions…

1) You are in shock.
Because you’re in shock, you have the mental capacity of a two-year-old child. (No offense intended.) You’re in no position to make big decisions, but you may have to. Take a deep breath, dive in, and ask for support from other resources. Don’t make any rash decisions or harsh assumptions, but don’t leave the decisions to others. Take them one at a time. They’re easier to focus on that way. If you feel overwhelmed, say so. If you need clarification, say so. If you don’t understand, say so. You have everything to gain or everything to lose.

2) You are in crisis.
A crisis is a turning point, one that denotes a pivotal change in your life. This is different from any crisis you’ve been through before. This crisis won’t go away. Right now there is no cure for cancer, but there are many people who lead normal lives in remission. Regardless of the outcome, your life has changed. Move forward, even if you start with baby steps. Try to be strong and in control.

3) You must maintain your power.
The definition of helpless is as follows: “lacking protection or support; defenseless.” You are neither lacking in support nor defenseless. In a cancer crisis, the definition of helpless should be “lacking information needed to reach a lifesaving goal.” The cancer patient and his or her family have a say in all decisions, right or wrong. There is no preset treatment for any type of cancer. Pay close attention, ask for multiple recommendations, and stay grounded. But under no circumstances should you relinquish your power.

4) Prepare with knowledge and by surrounding yourself with the best of the best!
Your family and friends can help you sort through the mass quantity of information that is available to cancer patients. It is possible that some of them work in the medical field. Do your homework. Knowledge is your armor, just as treatment is your weapon. There are many resources available, especially in this age of the Internet and worldwide information. Many newly diagnosed cancer patients shy away from other resources while putting their faith solely on the shoulders of their medical team. This includes shutting out other patients who have gone through treatment for that same type of cancer. Don’t! It’s productive to listen and learn before you decide what is best for you.

5) If your doctor attempts to tell you the outcome…
At the outset, no one knows what will happen—good or bad. The doctor can no more tell you the final outcome than Madame Rue, the fortune teller. We were originally told that after six months of radiation, chemo, and a stem cell transplant—then poof, my husband would be as good as new. It didn’t happen! Things can go wrong; things can go right. You need a healthcare team that can deal with that. Every patient is different. Who hasn’t known of patients whose doctors told them they would only live months, but they lived years? You’re not stamped with an expiration date.

6) The devil is in the details.
Our first indication that we were not originally at the right treatment facility for Gordon’s cancer treatment was the lack of organization between the different types of oncologists responsible for his care. There were actually times that I was the one making the recommendations. No, I don’t have a medical degree, but someone had to break through. You need to listen and take an active role in cancer treatment, not passive.

About Joni’s books (available at

The Saving of Gordon: Lifelines to W-I-N Against Cancer
Based on Joni’s experience and years of research, this inspirational and informative book is designed to give families a fighting chance in their own cancer battle.

Connecting Through Compassion: Guidance for Family and Friends of a Brain Cancer Patient—Joni’s co-author on this book for caregivers of a primary or metastatic brain cancer patient is an MS in counseling and an expert on brain illnesses. You may not be able to bring the patient back into our world, but you can visit them in theirs. The last weeks of Gordon’s life were so traumatic for Joni that it two years of counseling to heal the wounds. The advice in this book could have made all of the difference.

Would you like to send something special to someone that’s going through a health-related hardship this holiday season? Instead of a poinsettia or fruitcake, why not send them a Basket of Care ( These baskets are lovingly designed by a cancer survivor, and chock full of items that will lend comfort. Care baskets include such items as warm blankets, angels, slipper socks, hope messages, note cards, and books by Joni Aldrich. Or what about a “Day at the Beach” basket for a child who is ill? A Basket of Care is just the way to say, “I care” over the holidays.

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