CYNTHIA HAYES is a former journalist, hospital executive, and cancer survivor who currently advocates for and mentors cancer patients. She has been preparing her whole life to write The Big Ordeal. She learned the basics of interviewing, synthesizing information, finding the headlines, and telling a story as a journalist early in her career. After a brief interruption to earn an MBA from Harvard Business School, Hayes spent twenty-five years as a management consultant. In that role, success depended on her ability to jump into new topics, ask sensitive questions, understand specialized information, and turn complex findings into a compelling narrative. 

Shortly prior to her own diagnosis, Hayes resigned from Montefiore Medical Center in New York, where for three years she had served as vice president and chief marketing officer, focused on telling stories of health and recovery. While at Montefiore, she gained a deeper understanding of medicine and had the opportunity to build relationships with cancer professionals and other experts who helped her write The Big Ordeal. 

When Hayes is not on the tennis court or writing, she mentors patients at Mount Sinai Hospital through the Woman to Woman program, and serves as a BOLD Buddy peer mentor to patients at the Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care in the Bronx. She is a director of Moving For Life, which encourages cancer recovery through dance exercise, and of Global Focus on Cancer, which provides education and support for patients in developing countries.

The Big Ordeal

Nothing can truly prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster of a cancer diagnosis. But, The Big Ordeal: Understanding and Managing the Psychological Turmoil of Cancer, will help you anticipate and respond to the psychological turmoil ahead. 

Written by a cancer survivor with the help of a psychotherapist and two oncologists, The Big Ordeal presents the typical emotional experience, illustrated by patient and caregiver stories. The book explains the science behind those emotions, helping you understand why you feel the way you do, and offers advice on how to cope. Based on interviews with over 100 patients, caregivers, oncologists, neuroscientists, and other experts, and endorsed by doctors at leading institutions, The Big Ordeal is the go-to book for those who seek to better manage the cancer experience.

  • Learn about the typical sequence of emotions you can expect, from diagnosis through treatment and beyond.
  • Discover how other patients have experienced cancer and the emotions they share.
  • Understand the science behind the emotions, and how cancer and its treatment contribute to how you feel.
  • Gain insight into coping styles, exercise benefits, complementary medicine and other ways to help you build resilience.
  • Gather advice from those who have been there.

What People Are Saying

The Big Ordeal is a must read for anyone facing cancer, as a patient or loving caregiver. Through her research with patients and experts, Cynthia brings new insights and understanding to the experience of cancer, helping to reduce the isolation, fear and anxiety so common with a diagnosis. I experience on daily basis the psychosocial challenges the diagnosis engenders and know that the empathy and intelligence shared in this book will help to ease the stress of a cancer care journey.

Shalom Kalnicki, MD, FASTRO, FACRO
Chairman, Department of Radiation Oncology, Montefiore Medical Center
Professor, Radiation Oncology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

The Big Ordeal is a vital guide for patients and family members contending with a cancer diagnosis, treatment and life beyond. Interweaving the empathic perspectives of a survivor with grounding insights from the science of the stress response, fear, anxiety, depression, cognition and resilience, the book  provides a unique roadmap for an often disorienting and life-changing journey. With its double helix of heart and science, “The Big Ordeal” is a must read for anyone trying to fathom the unfathomable.         

Jonathan Alpert, MD, PhD
Chair, Department of Psychiatry And Behavioral Sciences, Montefiore Medical Center
Professor of Psychiatry, Neuroscience, Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

While important strides in cancer care have led to substantial increases in survival, the personal experience of having cancer remains extraordinarily challenging. In The Big Ordeal, Cynthia uses her knowledge as a cancer patient and her skills as an observer to present a message of understanding and hope for all those touched by the cancer experience.   

Greg Fricchione, MD
Professor 0f Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
Associate Chief of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital
Director, Benson-Henry Institute For Mind-Body Medicine

The Big Ordeal addresses a critically important need for cancer centers and their patients to better understand the emotional arc of the disease and how to support patients through what is a physically and psychologically challenging experience.

Steven K. Libutti, MD, FACS
Director, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
Senior Vice President, Oncology Services, RWJBarnabas Health
Vice Chancellor Cancer Program, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences

Ms. Hayes writes with confidence, balancing difficult psychological and medical issues in a voice that will please both professionals and lay readers—not and easy task. This book, an important guide for the cancer community, is recommended for readers of The ASCO Post and their patients.

Ronald Piana
Writer, The ASCO Post


Cynthia Speaks About The Big Ordeal

Interview on IHeartRadio

Cynthia Hayes on CBS19

News Channel 10 – The Chat with David Lovejoy

Interview with Mike Schikman WSVA550 Radio

Reviews of The Big Ordeal

The ASCO Post – Cancer Survivor Offers Roadmap for Managing the Turmoil of Diagnosis and Treatment

Cure Today – Understanding The Emotional Aspects of the Cancer Care Journey

Let Life Happen – The Big Ordeal: Understanding and Managing the Psychological Turmoil of Cancer

Related Publications

Cancer Wellness Magazine – Timing is Everything

Pick The Brain – Six Reasons Why Cancer is an Emotional Diagnosis Too

The Mighty – The Art of Letting Go

Thrive Global – Tears and Thanks

Elephant Journal – Five Ways to Cope with Chemobrain This Holiday Season

Best Ever You – How My Big Ordeal with Cancer Began

Speaking Opportunities

Cynthia Hayes, author, The Big Ordeal: Understanding and Managing the Psychological Turmoil of Cancer, is available to speak on a range of topics related to The Big Ordeal. Talks can be 30 – 120 minutes, including presentation and time for Q&A or guided discussion. Selected topics include:

Overview of the Emotional Turmoil of Cancer

Nothing can truly prepare you for a cancer diagnosis but learning about the typical emotional experience of a cancer patient can help you understand that you are not alone. It can also help you better anticipate—and manage—the days ahead. Discover why you feel the way you do, including how cancer and its treatment contribute to the way you feel. Most importantly, hear how others who have been through the same experience have coped with the emotional fall out of the disease. Cancer is a big ordeal, but insights from science, experts and other patients can help you deal with the disease while minimizing the turmoil.

Active Coping – Exercise to Help You Cope and Better Manage Your Health in Cancer

The fatigue of cancer is overwhelming. Learn about the many benefits of exercise and how and when to start incorporating it into your life after a cancer diagnosis. Presented with Martha Eddy, EdD, exercise physiologist and somatic therapist with more than 25 years of research and practice in the field of enhancing wellness through movement, and founding director of Moving for Life, a dance exercise program dedicated to helping people challenged by cancer and aging.

Self-Advocacy – Getting the Care You Deserve

It can be hard to ask for what you need when you are scared to death, hard to ask for what you deserve when you think you’re lucky to be alive, hard to know what’s right when nothing in your body or your mind seems right, and hard to take on one more responsibility when you feel overwhelmed by what life has just dished out. But advocating for yourself helps you ensure you get the best care, so that you get what you need to get through your day, and get through your cancer. Learn what questions to ask and how to get the information you need to partner with your medical team—how to talk to you doctor and how to better cope with your disease.

Intimacy – Navigating The Physical and Emotional Space Cancer Creates

Cancer creates some very real physical and emotional barriers to intimacy, and nearly every cancer patient experiences some type of intimacy challenge. Yet, many of us are so thankful to be alive we don’t feel we have the right to expect intimacy too. And, it can be hard to raise the topic with medical professionals and loving partners, let alone someone you are just dating. Learn about the common causes of this intimacy chasm—both the physical and the emotional— and how you, your medical team and your partner can address them together.