Facing the Facts

When someone receives a diagnosis of cancer it is the beginning of a long, lonely journey. Demystifying cancer is crucial, according to oncologist Dr. Robert Buckman, and leads to a greater ability to cope. Buckman is the author of a new book called Cancer is a Word, Not a Sentence, in which he gives readers clear, calm and concise explanations of a range of cancers from diagnosis to treatment. His aim is to help people recently diagnosed with cancer, to get over the initial shock and cope better with the facts of their situation.

In the book, Buckman gives clear advice on the do’s and don’ts following diagnosis.

DO try to a get a reasonable, general overview of your type of cancer.

DO get a small amount of trustworthy current information from a few reputable cancer websites.

DO accept, which means admit and acknowledge to yourself any uncertainty about the diagnosis and/or treatment. Uncertainty is always unpleasant but easier to cope with if you acknowledge that fact.

DO ask your medical team a few specific questions once you understand the general overview of your situation.

DO get a second opinion if you really think you need it.

DO talk to your friends and family.

DO breathe. Do spend a little bit of time every day doing something you really enjoy and thus look forward to it.

DON’T respond simply to the word cancer as a universal and total signal of doom and gloom.

DON’T go to the internet and collect hundreds of different views, opinions, home remedies and fringe medications.

DON’T think that things won’t change after you hear the first view of the diagnosis and treatment. Plans may well change as time goes on, so try to stay as flexible as possible.

DON’T or try not to ask the same questions too often. Asking over and over again usually means that it’s difficult for you to accept the answers.

DON’T get a third opinion if the second opinion is the same as the first.

DON’T feel you have to hold all your concerns and worries in until you know all the answers.

DON’T panic. There is plenty of time to get informed and make decisions.

Adapted from Cancer is a Word, Not a Sentence by Dr. Robert Buckman (Collins UK £9.99)

Cancer threatens fundamental assumptions about our lives. People’s personalities, coping styles, expectations, and past experiences all influence the impact of a cancer diagnosis. This book aims to help those with cancer understand better every aspect of their disease so that they can let go some of their fears and face the facts. Sound advice indeed.

8 Responses to Facing the Facts

  1. Grannymar says:


    I think Acceptance plays a major part in the whole picture, not alone for the person with the diagnosis but for the loved ones around them.

    Fear of the unknown causes great anxiety so certainly ask questions and read up on the subject. Remember that the cancer didn’t start on the day it was diagnosed, it was working away quietly for some time and patients were oblivious to it and living a normal life, so why not keep living that life.

    Best philosophy I ever heard was “I am not living with cancer, cancer is living with me!”

  2. Steph says:

    I like your philosophy, GM

    I must say I get annoyed when I hear people talk about ‘cancer patients’. They are people first, the cancer comes later – ‘people with cancer’.

  3. You know, this is something I ponder now and then. What I’ve realised, given my own health experiences, is that it’s not the terminality of any illness that bothers me, it’s the uncertainty and ouchness involved. Death I don’t mind, but can I pass on any pain, please?!

    Acceptance is so critical, as is being in each moment without judging it. I think the rational mind leaps backwards and forwards, playing Don Quixote while the only sensible option is really to only be in the present. Easier said than done, of course, given our social conditioning!

    You know, your comment above brings to mind a comment made by a myopic aunt about a girl suffering from chronic depression. “Oh you know,” she said airily, ” aside from the depression, she’s really quite a nice person.” I turned to her and said, “Right, and so I suppose when you meet someone with cancer you say the same thing, “Oh you know, aside from the cancer, she’s really quite a nice person.”
    Our conditioning around illness is truly bizarre. My mother, as a classic example, no longer asks how I am, just in case I say I’m not having a good day!
    *shakes head and mutters*

  4. Steph says:

    AV – beautifully put as always 🙂

    I love the way you handled your aunt re her attitude to depression. Having accompanied several close family members through various episodes of depression, I fully understand the attitudes that abound.

    It seems my own mother was conditioned in childhood to believe that illness is a ‘failing’ in someone’s character. Her way of coping with illness all her life, was to totally deny it’s existence except when forced to succumb. Sadly, this meant that she could not comprehend when one of her own children (my brother) was diagnosed with terminal cancer some years ago. Following his death, she rapidly deteriorated physically and mentally but interestingly, her denial of illness continues to this day.

    As regards living in the present – nothing focuses the mind more than a threat to our very existence. Many people state that a diagnosis of cancer was their wake-up call. I think the same could be said of living with any long-term illness as it really teaches you to appreciate the good days. Every time I recover from a ‘dip’, I’m always taken aback by how good it feels to be well again. You’d think I’ve have learnt by now, not to take anything for granted!

  5. Laura says:

    Cancer equals huge choices to be made or not made, it means changes to every part of your life, it means pain, sweat, blood and mental torture. It is mind games that you will play with yourself in your darkest hour. It is a constant reminder of the fact that your life is on loan to you. It is a change in mind and body, it is the seen and the unseen. It is the unknown and it will for some become the familiar. It is shattered dreams and long nights wondering what would have been. It is a reason to search out knowledge and a reason to rely totally on others who’s skill is priceless. Cancer is long long hours alone being so sick you can see nothing but blurred walls and feel every nerve in your body cry out in pain. It is bald heads and drip lines and it is human spirit doing what it does better triumphing against all the odds.

  6. Geri Atric says:

    Hi Steph,
    Had a letter a couple of weeks ago from the Dutch Population Health Examiner(Bevolkingsonderzoek) to go for a (baarmoederhalskanker) i.e., ‘cervical PAP cancer smear test’ (I think that’s the right translation!) Anyway, I had been putting it off and actually forgotton about it, for the stupid reason that my fairly new GP is a man – and the only examination I have ever had from him, is/was for earache… and I just can’t bring myself to let him do the PAP test. (I know, I know, it’s stupid!) But after reading the above article and comments, I have been prompted to make an appointment with a female gynaecologist.
    Thanks for reminding me that being self conscious is ridiculous when health may be at risk.

  7. Steph says:

    Laura – that’s stunning stuff!

    Easy knowing you’ve been there, those words really say it all. I’d say you could have written the above book and a follow-up called ‘Living with Cancer’, and said it much better than any doctor.

    I always find it amazing the way the human spirit refuses to be defeated despite the numerous knock-downs of a long-term illness. It just picks itself up, dusts itself down and carries on as best it can 🙂

    Geri – welcome back! I hope you’ve got the virus sorted? I’ll pop over and see shortly.

    You’re not alone in not wanting a male GP for such examinations. A lot of GP practices recognise this fact and provide a special clinic for smear tests with a female nurse to carry them out. I always chose to go to my gynaecologist for this examination but since having a hysterectomy 14 years ago, I no longer require smear tests. Yippee! Mind you, I’ve had so many other gynae problems as a result of that surgery, I’m well used to spreading my legs 😉

    I’m very pleased to hear that this post and especially the comments, have prompted you into action. Laura’s words are very powerful and provide a good wake-up call.

  8. […] wrote a post the other day to highlight a book which aims to help people let go of their fears following a diagnosis of cancer. The comments I […]

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