Letter to A Newly Diagnosed Cancer Patient

Recently people reeling from the “You have cancer” diagnosis have contacted me. If I could, I would sit down with them “in human” by the fireplace at my Starbucks and listen to their stories. I wouldn’t give them advice unless they asked me. If they asked me, I would share with them a few thoughts for those newly diagnosed with cancer from the perspective of a cancer survivor:


Dear Bewildered Friend,

I am so sorry you are replaying in your mind the cancer phone call from your doctor. Everyone around you is living life just as always, and here you are sitting with news so heavy, so derailing.

If you are like me, nights are the hardest. After the house quiets down, you lay there alone with your thoughts and fears. And each morning you wake, wondering if all of this is a bad dream. Once you regain your bearings, you’re faced with the challenge of getting out of bed to face another day. Physically everything looks the same; but now with this devastating diagnosis, nothing is the same.

If you’ve started sharing the news, I imagine your phone is ringing and your e-mail inbox is filling with well-meaning friends and family offering advice on diets, doctors, and blog links and books. If you are like me, you will probably try to read everything, and then hit a wall of information overload. You’ve been abruptly thrust into a new world filled with unfamiliar terms and options, appointments, decisions, all with varying outcomes. It’s hard to sort through all the information to know which steps to take.

These are just a few nuggets of advice from me looking back on my cancer battle. Feel the freedom to apply what you like or disregard them altogether.

  • There is no right way to do cancer. Everyone’s cancer journey is different. Yours won’t look like anyone else’s. So give yourself freedom to be on your own path.
  • Let other’s in. Chances are those who love you feel incredibly helpless and scared and want to help you in any way they can. Giving them the opportunity to bring a meal, drive you to a chemo appointment, clean your bathroom, or pick up your kids is a way for them to lessen the load for you, and it can be a blessing for them. Let others help so you can have space to heal and physically and emotionally tackle each portion of active treatment. You’ll probably be surprised, though. Some people you thought would be there for you may disappear, and people you didn’t expect may come along to help.
  • Find an information hub person. If you’re married, your spouse won’t be able to go anywhere for the next two years without being asked how you are doing. Family and friends will want updates. We stopped answering our home phone. Rather than saying the same thing over and over, consider using an online site like CaringBridge for updates and prayer requests. If you enjoy writing, writing updates on the blog may be a good place to process your journey. If you don’t, ask someone to write updates for you.
  • Try to be generous in the grace department. Grace is unmerited, undeserved favor. Give yourself grace. You’ve never battled cancer before. You are entering uncharted waters with how you will respond physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. Don’t be hard on yourself. Give those around you grace. They want to help, even though their unsolicited advice, like the latest cancer-killing vegetable discovered in the rain forest, may not be helpful. Your cancer diagnosis may trigger unresolved grief in those around you, so sometimes their response may not be what you need or want.
  • Lean into God. Wherever you are in your spiritual journey, my encouragement is to move toward God. He can take your anger, your confusion, your sadness, your fear. Be honest with Him. He wants your whole heart. And let Him help you, comfort you, provide for you. And let others pray for you. God is able to bring good out of something as awful as cancer.

I hate cancer. I hate thinking about another person having to battle cancer. I hate that you will walk the painful treatment road. As much as I hate cancer, I want you to know from my  experience that God used cancer to expand my heart. I have met some of the most remarkable people on this journey. I have been blessed in thousands of ways by the thoughtfulness and generosity of so many. I am not the same woman today because of cancer.

Cancer has marked my life, but it does not define my life.

I am praying for God’s blessing on your life in unexpected ways.

Love from a fellow warrior in pink,




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12 thoughts on “Letter to A Newly Diagnosed Cancer Patient

  1. Every aspect of this person’s journey is so true and so well documented. It’s full of hope and so uplifting to read.

  2. I just read your post today. It gives me hope that I am eventually going to see better days. I was just diagnosed with breast cancer and still have one more surgery to go before starting chemo and I’ve been told most likely radiation after that. I already see the friends I thought would be here haven’t shown up but so many others have. I’m having a hard time with getting past the “don’t be too hard on yourself” part because I have felt so guilty and at night the tears come. Not to mention how scared I am. It helps to know that these are emotions that others have felt too. At times I feel like such a cry baby and think I need to put on my “everything is OK” act around other people. Reading your blog lets me know that in time I will be able to get to that better place too and better able to deal with what is still to come. In my heart I know God is with me but my head hasn’t caught up with my heart yet. Thank you.

    • Hi Sharon, Thank you so much for taking time to comment and share a bit of your journey. I relate so much to what you shared–the confusion, fears, and tears. Just want you to know that I’ll pray for you. Sending you a hug from my couch to yours. Feel free to check in as you go with updates. viv

  3. Your letter is filled with warmth and such great advice. My breast cancer journey started in February 2014, and I am blessed to now be an eight month survivor. I have never had anything rock my being as did this diagnosis and treatments. Caring bridge was such a very convenient outlet during those first months to journal updates, receive encouragement and support from friends and family especially when my emotions were always just under the surface and while I had time for reflection. Cancer diagnosis definitely caused me to recognize my blessings more fully and to see life with new perspective. God bless you for your encouraging letter and comments.

    • Hi Carolyn, fellow “Warrior In Pink” :) What a year it’s been for you. Thank you for reaching out and taking time to comment. I agree with how our cancer journeys help us to see life with new perspective and to recognize our blessings more fully. Praying continued blessings and perspective for you and sending a virtual high five across the miles.

  4. I am 11, I feel so sorry for children with cancer.
    I want to help them by writing a letter. But I don’t know anyone with cancer. I was wondering if anyone knows who I can write to.

    • Hi Atiyana,
      You have a tender heart to desire to help kids battling cancer. I don’t know anyone personally right now, but we have a wonderful Children’s hospital. Perhaps you could write and send your letter to the hospital and ask them to pass it along to one of the kids who could use some extra encouragement. The address is: Children’s Hospital of Orange County, 1201 W. La Veta Ave., Orange, CA 92868-3874
      God bless you,

  5. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in March and will have right breast mastectomy June 1
    With reconstruction. I have so scared and pray to God everyday to get me through this.

    • Betty
      I am just seeing your comment right now. Saying a prayer for you as you are in recovery. Will you need to undergo radiation or chemo? Trusting the Lord will walk with you and go before you each step of the way.

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