Wrapping your head around the fact that you or a loved one has cancer is no easy task. Researching treatment options, interviewing doctors, scheduling appointments & additional surgeries, starting chemo & radiation… it all becomes an overwhelming blurr very quickly. Dale Shepard, MD, PhD, of Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute wrote an article “6 Things To Do When Diagnosed with Cancer” which offers tips on actions to take when you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. I thought his advice was very helpful and pertinent whether you’re a newly diagnosed patient or in the midst of treatment. I’m re-posting his article below. I also took the liberty of adding on two more “tips” (#7 & #8 specifically) based on my own personal experience…
1. Get a second opinion
It’s important for you and your family to be comfortable with the physician, the choice of therapy, and the treatment facility. A second opinion can ensure that you are well informed as you start treatment and may prevent apprehension later about whether you received the proper care.
2. Ask questions
Your oncologist has treated hundreds of patients with cancer, but this is likely your first time with this diagnosis. Too often, patients don’t ask questions because they assume there are things they should already know or that their question will be answered later. Asking questions helps you get the information that is important to you and ensures the oncologist that you are informed about your disease and treatment. Everyone benefits from your questions.
3. Remember what you’ve heard
A diagnosis of cancer is overwhelming to most patients and details from the initial visits with the oncologist may be lost due to the volume of new or difficult to understand information. Bring a family member or friend to your appointments to help remember what was discussed. It’s a good idea to take notes or to ask your oncologist to record your appointment to review later.
4. Use the Internet responsibly
There may be a period of time between a biopsy showing cancer and an initial appointment with an oncologist to review the diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. Many patients are eager to learn more about their cancer and turn to the Internet. While this can be a good source of information if the proper sites are reviewed, blogs and message boards sometimes provide inaccurate information and lead to unnecessary anxiety.
5. Understand the goal of your cancer treatment
Treatment for cancer can be given to cure disease, to prevent disease recurrence or to minimize symptoms of disease and prolong survival. Too often, patients in clinic for a second opinion don’t understand what treatment was initially recommended or the goals of that therapy. They may have metastatic disease and incorrectly assume that chemotherapy is likely to cure them. Knowing the goals of therapy will allow you to understand more about your disease and treatment and can minimize future frustration.
6. Tell others about your cancer
Patients benefit from good social support as they go through treatment. You should tell your family and friends so they can help you in what can be a difficult time. Some patients don’t want to burden those around them, but this is a disease that affects them too. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help and support.
7. Talk to your doctor about molecular profiling.
Two people with the same cancer can and do respond differently to the exact same treatment regimens. Why? Because each person’s cancer is unique. The oncology community has made great strides in identifying unique genes, proteins and other molecules (called cancer biomarkers) that can provide information about how your particular cancer functions and can be used to help identify potential treatment options. So talk to your doctor about getting your tumor tested. Molecular profiling is an important new option for patients in several situations:
- Standard or first-line treatment options aren’t working.
- Your doctor is choosing between multiple recommended treatments.
- Your cancer is particularly aggressive or rare or has limited treatment options for other reasons.
Visit MyCancer.com & IsMyCancerDifferent.com for more information on personalizing your cancer treatments. Also check out ChampionsOncology.com, they take molecular profiling two steps further by offering genetic sequencing and tumorgrafts.
8. If you don’t know where to turn for help, talk to an Oncology Navigator.
Oncology Navigators are skilled in helping cancer patients overcome obstacles to treatment (financial challenges, insurance & employment issues, managing daily life, evaluating treatment options, etc). They work to help patients get the best care possible. Where can you find an Oncology Navigator? Well, some hospitals and private oncology practices have an Oncology Navigator on staff. Another option is the LIVESTRONG Cancer Navigation Center, which provides one-on-one support to anyone touched by cancer, regardless of age or type of cancer. The National Coalition of Oncology Nurse Navigators can also help connect you to a Navigator in your area. Typically, oncology navigation services are FREE to the patient and can be very, very helpful in uncovering resources that you may not know about otherwise. (like CancerHawk 😉 )