Roughly 1.9 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year alone. It’s a diagnosis no one ever wants to receive, but one that is becoming far too common. Finding out you have cancer can leave you feeling lost and in utter disbelief. Many go through a stage of shock and denial. These feelings are normal. But, somehow, you must push through your fear and emotions and begin to prepare for your next steps. Not everyone’s steps will look the same, but here are some basic questions to ask and moves to make after receiving a cancer diagnosis.
Discuss the Specifics With Your Doctor
Following a cancer diagnosis, it’s important that you speak frankly with your doctor and care team. This helps you understand your specific situation and provides you with the facts needed to begin planning your next move. Questions you should ask include:
Where is my cancer located, and what stage is it?
This is where your discussion should start following your cancer diagnosis. You must have the answers to these questions before you can even start thinking about a treatment plan. The information might be hard to hear, but you need to know the facts to begin processing your diagnosis.
Find out exactly where your cancer is located and where it originated from. Your oncologist may ask for more tests, such as additional imaging or a biopsy, to determine if the cancer has spread and what stage it is. Cancer staging is how doctors describe the extent of the disease. The stage is determined by the size of the tumor, lymph node involvement, and whether or not the cancer has spread and how much. It can range from 0 to 4.
Is my cancer treatable?
Once you know precisely what you’re dealing with and to what degree, you and your doctor can begin to discuss treatment options. Ask your doctor what treatments he would recommend and why?
Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are all treatments that you should discuss with your oncologist. Do your own research as well to learn more. There are a lot of factors that play a role in what treatments are viable options. It’s also important to note that no two people are the same, and everyone’s body is different. What worked for one person may not work the same for you.
What is the goal of my treatment?
Once you begin establishing a treatment plan, find out what your treatment goal is. Are you trying to remove as much of the cancer from the body as possible? Are you trying to prevent cancer from coming back? Is your treatment to help manage pain? The answers to these questions give you a clear, realistic understanding of why you’re undergoing the treatment option you are.
What are my chances for survival?
This might be one of the most difficult questions you ask, but it’s an important one. You must find out your prognosis. Your care team should be able to estimate your chances of being cured. They can provide you with a life expectancy based on your type of cancer and the stage. Again, it can be scary and tough to hear the answer to this question but knowing your chance of survival will help you make the best decisions for your particular situation.
Take Steps to Help You Cope
Along with discussing your diagnosis and getting your questions answered by your doctor, there are some steps you can take that will help you cope.
Get a Second Opinion
Don’t be afraid to ask your physician for a recommendation of someone to provide you with a second opinion. It’s common and usually a good idea to get a second opinion from another specialist or oncologist. By doing so, you’re only learning more and becoming fully informed about your diagnosis, prognosis, and possible treatment options. Most doctors should understand and respect your decision to get a second opinion and not take it personally.
Consider Joining a Support Group
Managing your feelings can be difficult after being told you have cancer. You may not know how to tell your family about your diagnosis and prognosis. Support groups help you to mentally and emotionally process what you’re going through. They can provide advice on how best to talk to your family and friends. And, most of all, they can give you the much-needed support you’ll need during this life event. Sharing with others who are going through a similar experience helps you cope.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle that includes a good nutritional diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep can help you manage cancer and its side effects. A proper diet and exercise reduces fatigue, weight gain and helps to build up your strength. Depending on the type of treatment you’re undergoing, it’s a good idea to consult with a registered dietician or nutritionist to create a safe eating plan. Having a good sleep routine is essential to coping with cancer as well. It helps to improve your mood, lessen your stress, and improve your overall health. You should stick to the same schedule on weekdays and weekends and try to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Just the thought of cancer is frightening. Getting a cancer diagnosis can be crippling. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through it alone. With the support of your care team and your family and friends, you can empower yourself with the knowledge to make the best decisions for you and your health. In addition, being proactive and taking positive steps can better help you cope.
Visit the American Cancer Society HERE for more information on support groups near you or other cancer-related services.