Understanding a Cancer Diagnosis: What To Do When a Loved One Is Diagnosed

A cancer diagnosis can be an incredibly difficult experience for both the diagnosed individual and their loved ones. It is important to know what you can do in this instance. Read our guide to learn how you can cope with a loved one's diagnosis and how you can support them.

by L.H.

A cancer diagnosis is both devastating and traumatic for those diagnosed and their loved ones around them. Shock, grief, and confusion are all par for the course when finding out that a loved one has received a cancer diagnosis. In such a difficult situation, it is normal to feel overwhelmed by your emotions. 

Despite this, you can still understand what a cancer diagnosis means for you and your loved one and know what to do for them.

Understanding a Cancer Diagnosis 

Generally speaking, the most common types of cancer in Singapore amongst men and women alike are colon cancer, rectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer.

Here are common symptoms of cancer that may be observed even before a diagnosis is made: 

  • Fatigue or extreme tiredness that doesn’t relent
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain of more than 4-5kg 
  • Eating problems such as loss of appetite, trouble swallowing, belly pain, or nausea and vomiting
  • Swelling, thickening or lumps anywhere in the body
  • New or unexplained pain that doesn’t improve or worsens over time
  • Skin changes such as bleeding or scaly lumps, new moles, or jaundice
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising for no known reason
  • Change in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhoea, that doesn’t improve or a change in how your stools look
  • Bladder changes such as pain when passing urine, blood in the urine or needing to pass urine more or less often
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Headaches
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Mouth changes such as sores, bleeding, pain, or numbness

Do note that symptoms will of course, also differ from person to person and that specific cancers can have very specific symptoms as well that you should consult a doctor about. 

Dealing with the Diagnosis

Accepting the Diagnosis 

A cancer diagnosis for a loved one is traumatic and difficult to process for anyone. So don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed with thoughts and confusion at first instance. As with any difficult situation, you may find yourself cycling through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These are important emotional stages for you to experience to properly cope with the diagnosis and should not be rushed. As such, take as much time as you need to deal with your emotions and express them as they come in appropriate ways.

One good way of dealing with a complex and difficult situation is to map out and organise all the information you have. This can help you to restore a sense of control over the situation and maintain your calm and ability to cope with the diagnosis. 

So avoid panicking immediately and instead take stock of you and your loved one’s situation.

It is also important that you are aware of your own emotional state and reactions towards the diagnosis. Often the values that you grew up with will influence how you will think, cope and emotionally react to a loved one’s cancer diagnosis. 

For instance, some people may feel that they need to put on a strong front and take care of their loved one. Others may seek support and help in any way they can, such as from their networks and other cancer survivors. Still, some others may seek spiritual support in their faith or mental support from counselling and mental health professionals.

Regardless of how you may instinctively react to a loved one’s cancer diagnosis, you can practice self-awareness with the following guiding questions:

  1. How do I feel about the current situation?
  2. What am I worried about?
  3. What can I do?
  4. What does my loved one want to do?

It can take some time to adjust to what seems and is indeed an entirely new reality. Take your difficulties in stride and work together with your loved one to cope properly. 

Remember, your family, friends, doctors and other medical professionals are there to support you and your loved one every step of the way. 

Dealing With Conflicting Emotions

A cancer diagnosis can sting painfully and lead to different conflicting emotions in those diagnosed and their loved ones. For example, your loved one might prefer not to talk openly or acknowledge their condition initially. On the other hand, you might prefer the idea of confronting the condition immediately. While it can feel confusing and difficult that your loved one doesn’t seem receptive to seeking help, it is important that you respect their decision and accord them the space that they need to process their own diagnosis as well during such a difficult time. 

You may also experience other conflicting emotions within yourself. Shame or regret over not having noticed symptoms earlier, or from having to seek support from others, are common. It is important you remember to be kind to yourself and your emotions. Acknowledge them with your loved one or with a trained counselling professional so you can properly process them. 

Remember, your feelings are always valid, but you should always also express them appropriately and in ways that empower you towards offering support to yourself and your loved one. 

Lending Support To Your Loved One

Supporting a loved one through a cancer diagnosis

Source: Unsplash

During this time, even as you grapple with your own potential grief, it is important and necessary to remember and acknowledge that your loved one may also feel overwhelmed and have difficulty coping with their own diagnosis. They are, after all, confronting their own mortality.

Here are some tips for you to support your loved one through this difficult journey:

1. Process your own feelings first

Learning that someone you love has cancer can be incredibly difficult, and feeling grief, anger, or sadness is normal. As suggested earlier, you may want to speak with a trusted friend or a professional about how you are feeling. Do avoid worrying your loved one with your own concerns and emotions during this time.

2. Listen

It can be hard to do this when a loved one has a life-threatening condition and has to make difficult decisions about their own health. Yet listening without judging, or avoiding offering overly excessive enthusiasm is one of the most important ways you can support your loved one. Hold space and allow them to express and process their feelings and thoughts in your company.

3. Offer advice only when solicited

You may have done a lot of research about treatment options and medicines for your loved ones and are eager to share about them. This is definitely helpful when information is varied and overwhelming. You should, however, avoid sounding arrogant or knowing better. Instead, gently share your information with your loved one and always let them be the one to choose or decide on their next steps or if they want to know more. 

4. Learn about your loved one’s condition 

Learning more about your loved one’s form of cancer from credible sources like medical institutions or your loved one’s doctors is a great way to show your support to your loved one and also helps you to better empathise with what they are going through. 

5. Support your loved one’s treatment decisions

Sometimes when a life-threatening medical condition is involved, tensions can run high when a loved one’s treatment decision seems counter-intuitive or not aligned with your own expectations. For instance, your loved one may be adamant about invasive treatment options, like surgery, or having to undergo aggressive chemotherapy. In some cases, they may need more time to decide on which treatment is best for them.

In these instances, try to take a step back and remember that it is your loved one’s body and spirit that is shouldering the effects of cancer. As much as possible, support their treatment decisions above trying to impose your own desires on them, even if it might be difficult and painful for you to do so. 

6. Keep things normal

A cancer diagnosis can be very disruptive for many patients to their bodies, routines, and daily lives. With the effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, plus visits to the hospital, it is a heavy load to bear for the diagnosed and their loved ones alike.

During this time, you can support your loved one by keeping things as normal as possible and avoid molly-cuddling or treating them too different than before. This helps your loved one retain a sense of dignity and self, especially if they are used to being independent. 

7. Be there for your loved one, but give them space when they need it

Last, but not least, you should try to always be there for your loved one. A cancer diagnosis can be a particularly lonesome and alienating experience for anyone to go through. By showing up and providing company to your loved one, whether it’s making time for them or assuring them that you are walking this journey alongside them, you are supporting your loved one in one of the most important ways possible.

Simply try and sit with them as they undergo treatment, hold their hands when they are scared, or send a text to let them know that you are thinking of them from afar. Try to understand that your loved one is going through a difficult time themselves, and while you want to be there for them, they may also require their own space and time to rest. 

Financial Subsidies and Support

There are also financial subsidies and support schemes that you can tap into in Singapore for cancer diagnosis and treatment with MediShield Life and MediSave:

Financial subsidy or aidDetails
MediShield LifeRanges from $200-$9,600/month for cancer drug treatments on the Cancer Drug List

Separate claim limit for outpatient cancer drug services:

Before 1 April 2023: Additional $1,200/year
After 1 April 2023: Additional $3,600/year

MediSave$1,200/month for cancer drug treatments with MediShield Life claim limit above $5,400/month, and $600/month for other treatments on the Cancer Drug List where the MediShield Life limit is $5,400/month and below.

Additional $600/year for cancer drug services and other cancer scans.

You can find the Cancer Drug List here. 

We hope that this Homage guide has been useful in helping you come to terms with a loved one’s cancer diagnosis. If you require any other assistance in offering support to your family member or friend who is coming to terms with their condition, we are here to support you.

Our Care Professionals, who are local caregivers and qualified nurses, will be able to support you with your loved one’s cancer care. Our Care Pros can support your loved one with daily living activities, provide companionship and a listening ear, and accompany them for medical checkups and chemotherapy visits. You may fill up the form below for a free consultation with our Care Advisory team. 

Fill out the form below and our Care Advisors will get back to you with care information you need.

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  1. Common Types of Cancer in Singapore. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2023, from https://www.singaporecancersociety.org.sg/learn-about-cancer/cancer-basics/common-types-of-cancer-in-singapore.html
  2. Signs and Symptoms of Cancer | Do I Have Cancer? (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2023, from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/understanding-your-diagnosis/signs-and-symptoms-of-cancer.html
  3. Cancer, Diagnosis, Support. (n.d.). CancerCare. Retrieved February 27, 2023, from http://www.cancercare.org/publications/104-what_can_i_say_to_a_newly_diagnosed_loved_one
  4. CPFB | Enhanced support for cancer treatment. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2023, from https://www.cpf.gov.sg/member/infohub/educational-resources/enhanced-support-for-cancer-treatment
  5. MOH | Cancer Drug List. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2023, from https://www.moh.gov.sg/home/our-healthcare-system/medishield-life/what-is-medishield-life/what-medishield-life-benefits/cancer-drug-list

About the Writer
L.H. is a writer who guzzles coffee a little too much for his own good.
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