THE BLOG
01/29/2015 07:24 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2015

Dealing With the Fear of Cancer

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If you've been diagnosed with cancer, how did you react? Were you shocked, numbed, frightfully scared? Perhaps you experienced all of these emotions and more. Learning to process such a serious diagnosis can be overwhelming. Although in many ways science has made great advancements in treating cancer, there are still many unknowns.

So when that c-word is directed at you, those unknowns become magnified. Have those scientific achievements reached your particular diagnosis? And even if they did, what must you endure to reach that stage of remission? If told there is no cure for your cancer and chances are it will revisit you, you must learn to adjust all over again, to a different way of life. This task may not be as formidable as you might think. In fact, the challenges it presents can add a whole new dimension to your life and present a perspective to your view of reality that you otherwise may never have experienced or imagined.

For many, the best way to deal with fear is to face it and determine exactly what it is you fear. Some of the most common fears and tips to deal with them are as follows:

1. Knowledge is power.
The best way to face the fear of your diagnosis is to ask your physician as many questions as possible. Will you need an operation or will you be treated with medication? You will want to know the stage of your cancer and, if it's defined more specifically than stage, like grade and degree of aggressiveness, ask for those details as well. Cancers vary in their description. Some are broken down strictly into stages, usually from stage I to IV. Others have a grade associated with them, i.e., a, b or c. Others have further classifications. You'll want your physician to provide you with all of the details of your specific cancer.

Knowing which category your cancer falls into will give you an idea of how serious it is. For instance, stage I is usually the stage at which the cancer is detected very early and can most likely be treated easily. Once treated, the cancer has a less likely chance of returning. Stage 4 cancers on the other hand, are late stage and the tumors have most likely grown to a significant size and/or metastasized to organs in the body apart from the original growth site. Yet, they too can lie dormant or go into remission for many, many years. Remember, information is power.

2. Managing the side effects of chemotherapy.
While years ago chemotherapy was considered very difficult to endure, there have been significant developments as far as managing the side effects of chemotherapy are concerned. Side effects will vary depending on the person and the kind of chemotherapy being administered. There really is no one size fits all answer but chances are likely that your side effects will be minimal. The best way to cope with chemo is to ask your doctor about the treatment plan and what side effects to expect. If told there will be some, find out exactly what they will be or could be and prepare accordingly. Usually, most side effects are temporary. Nausea and vomiting are the most common. However, oncologists now administer anti-nausea drugs right along with chemotherapy and those usually control the issue. Nevertheless, there may be times you occasionally experience nausea and/or vomiting. If you prepare ahead of time for either additional medication or other natural remedies to take, you can help to minimize those experiences.

3. Dealing with hair loss.
This is often a huge issue, especially for women. Some treatments are more prone to hair loss than others. If you're told this is something to expect, there are a number of things you can do. Women with long hair may want to cut it short so the loss won't be as drastic when it happens. You may also want to shop for wigs beforehand if you don't like the idea of being hairless. Using head scarfs is another option and they can be tied in a number of fashionable styles and serve as a great alternative to wigs. Doing these things ahead of time help to prepare you mentally to adjust to your new appearance once the hair loss occurs. It's also easier to accept once you understand the loss will be temporary.

4. Remaining Independent.
Since everyone's cancer is different, your ability to remain completely independent will vary. A lot will depend on the aggressiveness of your cancer and a host of other factors. Your diet, your frame of mind, your ability and willingness to exercise will all play a significant role in retaining your independence. Many people live with late stage cancer and do so quite independently. Regarding your cancer as something that's happening to you, not as something that defines you can help tremendously. If you adopt an attitude that you plan to move through this challenge by addressing each obstacle as you're confronted with it and not be overwhelmed by it, you increase your chances for quality living.

5. Overcoming the fear of death.
This is often the initial thought one has when diagnosed with an incurable cancer. Yet, it's often suppressed, lingering there in the recesses of your mind. It's much healthier to acknowledge the fear and address it. The fact is, new advances are being made with cancer all the time. In addition to traditional advancements, there are a plethora of alternatives that, while not as well researched, offer much promise. Even chronic, incurable cancers are often put on hold for an indeterminate amount of time.

Fear of dying is a natural feeling. The best antidote is to reframe your thinking to focus on living the best life possible and maximizing your time here on earth. Who knows, with a new awareness of life, a new attitude, and new lust for living, you may very well add even more years than you imagined. If nothing else, you made your time here on earth something to enjoy and love. Coping with fear is all about empowerment. It's important to ask questions, to live in the moment - seeking fulfillment in all that your do and minimize stress and resentment. It's also important to understand no one knows when their time to cross over will come. So, living in the moment and living with purpose is powerful.

Do you have a story about cancer and emotional wellness you'd like to share? Email us at healthyliving@huffingtonpost.com to share your thoughts in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.