I Have Cancer, Now What?

It has been brought to my attention that it might be a good idea to talk about what patients should do once they are told by their physician that they have cancer. So I was doing some writing, a bit of research, and I came up this this list that I hope people recently diagnosed with cancer will find helpful and informative.

  • Breathe. That’s right. The very first thing you should do is take a deep breath in, release it, take another breath in, and then release it. You have just been told that you have cancer. Do not panic. Things will be fine. The world of cancer is large, scary, and can be intimidating. There is HOPE. Cancer is not a death sentence. There have been a lot of breakthroughs, research, and new technologies that are available to you and your health care provider. It may seem scary, and you have every right to be, but your family and friends are here for you, your physician is here for you, and there are lots of resources out there for you, I am just one of them.
  • Know the details about the diagnosis. Find out the name, size and location. Ask the doctor where the cancer started and find out if it has spread at all. Ask if the cancer is slow growing, or if it is more aggressive and is growing fast.
  • Ask about the treatment options. Should you have surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of all three treatments. Find out what their suggestions are for your specific type of cancer. Ask for what the percentages are for success, the potential risks, and any side effects that you might experience. See if there is any data that supports their treatment recommendation. Ask the physician if they will be talking to the other physicians personally about your case, and ask for documentation to prove that they really are speaking about your specific case and treatment options. (You need this information in order to ensure that you have an overall understanding of what the problem is, how they plan on fixing it, and what you can expect.)
  • Bring someone with you. This is a very stressful and scary time in your life. You are most likely only focusing on that six letter word, CANCER. There is a real potential that you will not be able to remember any information once you hear the word cancer. You need to bring someone with you to take notes, ask questions, and to be your advocate. It is always good to have someone to help you unscramble the messages from the physicians office.
  • Consult an Oncologist. Depending on the type of cancer, its location, the size and stage of the cancer will depend on when you are referred or when you should speak to an Oncologist. (Cancer doctor.) There are many types of cancers, but not all of them require an Oncologist to treat them. For instance, a basal skin caner can be removed by a dermatologist in his office and one will never have to worry about it returning. For the vast majority of cancers, it is best to consult with an Oncologist and let he or she tell you if you need to see them further or not. Make sure to communicate with your physician and ask when they think you should see an Oncologist. If you are unhappy with their response, look up Oncologist in the phone book and make an appointment. It is always better to be safe and get the opinions of an Oncologist when it comes to cancer and the treatment options.
  • Seek a Second Opinion. It is always good to seek the opinion of an Oncologist. You may want to seek out a facility that specializes in cancer care. Typically these can be found in University settings, and most smaller communities have cancer centers as well. If you have a rare or highly unusual cancer, it may be best for you to go to a larger facility that may have more experience in treating that type of cancer. For the majority of cancers one should be able to find good quality care and cutting edge technology close to home. This is nice since being at home, close to family and friends, as well as trying to keep as normal of a life as possible can help aid in the healing process. DO NOT waste time on getting 6 or 7 different opinions. If you get two opinions, and they are very similar in advice, chances are that they will be similar no matter where you go for an opinion.
  • 3 Qualities to Seek in a Doctor.
    • Listens-It’s very important to find a doctor that will listen to your concerns. This will also make it easier to ask questions when they might come up. Always feel free to ask questions.
    • Explains-You want to find a doctor that can explain what your diagnosis means, the treatment options, and everything else that you might expect during this process. It is very important to find a doctor that can explain all of this information in terms that you can understand.
    • Understands-You want to be able to have a good relationship with you and your physician. You need to find a doctor that understands you and your needs. If you do not have a good relationship with your doctor, then seek another one. It is in your best interest to have a good working relationship with your physician. One that will work with you. The best relationship is one that is proactive and participatory.
  • What to Consider When discussing Treatment Options:
    • Treatment is Evolving. Surgery use to be the treatment of choice. In today’s world, there are more treatment options, and equal or better cure rates with less invasive techniques. If you had breat cancer, they used to remove the entire breast to give you the best possible chance for survival. Today, you can have the lump removed with radiation and have just as good of survival chances with less cosmetic deficits.
    • Treatment Options Vary. Learn about your disease and the treatment options normally used to treat it. Some caners respond best to radiation, others to chemotherapy, and yet others to hormonal therapies. Some require one treatment, and others a combination. Ask what would happen with no treatment, and then compare and weigh your options accordingly. Does the benefits out weigh the risks?
    • Learn about Side Effect. Understand what side effects to expect as well as the benefits of treatment. then try to weigh the benefits of treatment versus having to deal with certain side effects. Is it worth reaping the benefits of treatment? The goals of therapy can vary, and only you are able to decide what side effects are worth reaping the rewards of treatment.
  • Not all cancer treatment have terrible side effects. Most side effects can be predicted. Your doctor should be able to outline a plan of what to expect in your treatment in regards to side effects. They should also be able to come up with a plan to deal and treat those side effects as well. They should be able to treat most, and the others to lessen their effect on your body. In general, side effects are reversible, and it should be the goal of your doctors to help mamange them for you.
  • Most side effects aren’t as bad as you have heard. In general side effects are  not as bad as the horror stories that you have probably heard. Ask your doctor what you can expect. How sick are you going to be. How much energy you are going to have during treatment. Will you be able to continue with your work or current level of physical activity. Know the answers to these questions.
  • Role of Family and Friends. Family and friends will have the best of intentions, but they may overwhelm you with their research efforts. At times family can also be overly enthusiastic in advocating aggressive treatments. Remember family may not understand your treatment, the side effects, or the outcomes. Family and friends are crucial to survival. There are plenty of studies that have correlated cancer survival to social contacts. Know your limits. Its okay to take a step back and regroup. Do not beat yourself up or feel guilty if this occurs. Set your priorities and know your limits.

I f you need any assistance, feel free to contact me at: CANCERGEEK@GMAIL.COM

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