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Young People First: Coping With A Cancer Diagnosis | Lifestyles

While I was a social worker for Youth First, I worked with many students affected by cancer. This school year was no exception, as I myself was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2021. Here are some ideas that you may find helpful in coping with a cancer diagnosis.

When you first learn of a cancer diagnosis, you may be scared and confused. Once the initial shock is over, start reading and asking questions. There are many books and educational articles available to help you understand the type of cancer you or a loved one is experiencing. There are support groups in the community that can help as well. Check them!

When you go to doctor’s appointments, have another person accompany you to help you take notes and ask questions. Sometimes the person with cancer can be overwhelmed, so it is important to have someone else to support them. Bring a notebook and a pen with the questions you have been thinking about.

I started keeping a daily / monthly calendar of all doctor’s appointments and exams. It was a good way for me to look back to check the dates for billing purposes. I also use the calendar as a diary where I record how I feel on chemo days as some days are better than others.

Keep in mind that some people may not know how to react to someone else’s cancer diagnosis. I spoke to my Youth First supervisors, as well as school administrators and colleagues, about my diagnosis at the start of the school year. I wanted them to be aware of what I was going through, especially since I knew I was going to lose my hair.

I met with the students individually to determine if they would agree to work with me. Some of them had parents or family members with cancer, and I didn’t want to cause further trauma or stress. Most were receptive, and some watched me as much as I watched them.

Develop a support system that includes family, friends, members of the religious community, neighbors, peers, and co-workers. Your oncologist and other medical support staff will guide you through the treatment, but the support of your loved ones is just as important.

I can’t do it all on my own, so I find it heartwarming to be supported physically, mentally and spiritually by others. During chemotherapy, my colleagues regularly made gift bags filled with items such as lip balm, hand and body lotion, puzzle books, snacks, etc. Incentive cards are always welcome; everyone loves receiving mail!

Finally, if you know someone with cancer, ask them how you can help them. It might just be listening to them, sharing a meal, helping with transportation to dates, going for a walk together, or even helping with household chores. Most importantly, be flexible and patient with someone who is going through their cancer journey.

Katherine S. Baker, LCSW, LCAC, is a Youth First Social Worker at Castle High School in County Warrick. Youth First, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening youth and families. Youth First provides 78 Masters-level social workers to 105 schools in 12 counties in Indiana. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First school social work and after-school programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit or call 812-421-8336.