Imagine sitting in your doctor’s office and hearing him or her say “cancer” followed by a barrage of medical terminology that you can barely understand, much less absorb. You’re just imaging this situation, but for the millions of Americans who are diagnosed with cancer every year, this is their reality. People diagnosed with cancer often say they were shocked upon hearing the initial diagnosis and were unable to absorb much of what was said afterward. As someone who is newly diagnosed with cancer, there are several first steps you can take to help learn about your diagnosis and treatment options, find sources of information and support, and get organized.
First, it is important to understand the specific type of cancer with which you were diagnosed, along with your treatment options. You might consider conducting research online at reputable cancer information websites including the American Cancer Society website, Cancer.Org; the American Society of Clinical Oncology patient website, Cancer.Net; and the National Cancer Institute website, Cancer.Gov. You can then print information and bring it to your appointments, along with a list of questions to ask your doctor. Also, it is a good idea for someone who is newly diagnosed with cancer to bring a trusted family member or friend to subsequent follow-up appointments to write down or tape record conversations.
A cancer diagnosis will likely have an effect on you both physically and emotionally, however it is important to understand that you are not alone. There are a tremendous amount of resources within the cancer community that can help with the healing process, including support groups and psychologists who specialize in treating people living with cancer. In fact, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s patient website, Cancer.Net, research has shown that sharing fears and anxieties with family or friends, counselors, or support groups helps strengthen patients emotionally, and perhaps even physically.
Most people newly diagnosed with cancer will have a health care team involved in their treatment, which may include a surgeon, radiation and/or medical oncologist, oncology nurse, and physician’s assistant. As you visit these various members of the health care team, you will likely gather a large amount cancer-related paperwork and documents including test results, insurance information and statements, and personal notes, which can be daunting to keep track of. Consider developing a system to organize your paper trail by designating a place in your house and labeling files according to type of paperwork. Most importantly, create a system that works for you.
There are more than 12 million people living with cancer in the United States alone. However, for those who are newly diagnosed with cancer, the first steps can often be scary and overwhelming. Remember to learn as much as you can about your diagnosis and treatment options early on, find sources of information and support, and keep yourself organized. New advances in cancer research and treatment are made every day, and although it may be difficult at first to find strength and hope, the more you learn through information gathering and support, the more empowered you will become to fight your disease.