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I Have Cancer

Now What?

by Kris Carr

Author of Article photo

Kris Carr was diagnosed with stage IV cancer of the liver and lung in February 2003.

Take a deep breath, get grounded, and center yourself. Like Alice in Cancerland, you?re falling down a dark and creepy rabbit hole. Doctors are spewing lots of information, most of which probably goes in one ear and out the other. Why? Because when you?re newly diagnosed with cancer, this is what you hear: “Blah, blah, CANCER, blah, blah, YOU ARE GOING TO DIE, blah, blah, CANCER.”

So here it is. Yesterday, you were a normal civilian; today, you are a cancer survivor. Getting diagnosed throws your universe into a free fall. There?s no sugarcoating it: Cancer is a devastating blow, one that takes time to process. My shrink taught me that people with cancer go through the same post-traumatic stress disorder as soldiers or rape victims.

At first I thought she was being awfully dramatic (though I appreciated it), but then it made sense. I was in total shock after my diagnosis. To be honest, that shock lasted several years, and even though I never had treatment and manage the cancer on my own, at times I am still overcome by it.

Yesterday, you were a normal civilian; today, you are a cancer survivor.

A quick look at the online public encyclopedia Wikipedia puts the idea into an even broader perspective: “PTSD is normally associated with trauma such as violent crimes, rape, and war experience. However, there have been a growing number of reports of PTSD among cancer survivors and their relatives (Smith 1999, Kangas 2002). Cancer as trauma is multifaceted, includes multiple events that can cause distress, and like combat, is often characterized by extended duration with a potential for recurrence and a varying immediacy of life-threat (Smith 1999).” On top of that, you can also suffer from PTSD after being attacked by a vicious dog, shark, or mountain lion. That?s it – no more waterskiing near the Great Barrier Reef or hikes in Patagonia for me.

All of us who have heard the three deafening words “you have cancer” struggle to figure out how and why it happened. What did I do wrong? We desperately want answers. Sometimes, we may even want to blame someone or something for crashing us into our own mortality and forcing us to face it. It?s crazy-making!

So I?m not saying it?s easy, but now is not the time to lose your mind and curl up in a ball or go postal. You need your wits about you, sister. There are lots of decisions to make, and the more grounded you are, the more sensible your choices will be. If I?d listened to one of the first doctors I talked to, I?d have ended up sliced, fried, and hauling around not one but three organs that didn?t belong to me! Needless to say, I don?t think I?d be here, sharing my story with you.

There are no hard-and-fast rules on how to deal with a diagnosis. I wish I could give you a road map, but I can?t. No two cancers are the same, and neither are the experiences that surround them. Remember, when you?re newly diagnosed, everyone who loves you is freaked out, not just you. Friendships shift. Family roles and dynamics change, sometimes forever.

There are no hard-and-fast rules on how to deal with a diagnosis. I wish I could give you a road map, but I can’t.

So what do you do? Everything you can to create joy in your world. Just because you have cancer doesn?t mean you can?t go out, enjoy life, and be you. Unless you?re in treatment and feel like a truck has hit you, in which case you are a queen and for the time being you get the biggest piece of emotional birthday cake. But whether you?re feeling fine or not, never think of yourself as a Sick Person. So often we wait for all our ducks to be in a row, our closets to be neat and tidy, and our endless to-do lists to be checked off before we allow ourselves to have fun. We believe that only after we get all our “stuff” done can we take a deep breath and live.

Well, cancer doesn?t wait for order. In fact, it thrives on chaos. Breathe now. Burn the lists and let the dust bunnies roll like tumbleweeds. Narrow your focus to what really matters: you. Cancer is unknown territory. Will life ever be the same? I hate to burst your bubble, but no. Can you still drink wine? Maybe. Dance on tables? Yes. Go on vacation? Absolutely. Be “normal”? Why would you want to be that?

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Kris Carr is an actress, photographer, filmmaker, and author. Her latest book is entitled Crazy Sexy Cancer Survivor. For more information about Kris, visit

Excerpted with permission from Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr, by arrangement with The Lyons Press, copyright © 2007 by Kris Carr.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2008.