- Let your emotions settle. A cancer diagnosis is usually not an emergency.
- Contact the doctor who diagnosed you or the doctor's nurse or office manager. Ask for a repeat of the basics, including how long you have to make a decision..
- Take time choosing a cancer doctor - generally a specialist called an Oncologist.
- Focus on getting the medical care you need. A patient navigator can help. Postpone major non-medical decisions until after treatment ends if possible.
- Learn the basics about your cancer.
- Decide whether you or someone else will be the decision maker about your health care. Learn how to maximize time with a doctor.
- Before deciding on a treatment, consider getting a second opinion. Understand the pros and cons of each possibility.
- Think of non-traditional treatments as complementary or in addition to - not instead of what your doctor has to offer.
- Decide who to tell about your condition, when, and how much to tell.
- Think of family and friends as part of your health care team. Ask them for help when you need it. Your health needs should come first, but also consider theirs. If you have underage children, tell them about your diagnosis in an age appropriate manner.
- If you work, whether you are an employee, business owner, or self employed, be cautious telling about your diagnosis right away. There is no legal obligation to tell. Consider taking some time to focus on your condition first.
- Share your emotions. Watch for depression. Consider seeking counseling. Keep busy while waiting for test results. You may also want to consider getting a pet if you don't have one (yes, a pet).
- Start looking at your insurance and financial situation to determine how you will pay for medical care. Even with health insurance, medical care can be costly. Free or low cost care is available if you are uninsured or underinsured.
- Attend to your financial basics. Pay your rent or mortgage and minimums on your credit card. Start keeping track of all medical services you receive and expenses you pay. Don't pay a medical bill just because you receive one.
- Financial assistance may be available if needed.
- Learn to be wise about purchasing, living with, storing and disposing of drugs. Free drugs may be available.
- Drugs and treatments do not work in a vacuum. Start to think of the food you eat, the exercise you get, rest/sleep and even proper care of your mouth as steps you can take to make treatments and drugs most effective.
- Speak with other people who are going through what you are.
- If you have underage children, tell them about your diagnosis in an age appropriate manner. Monitor their behavior. Arrange for their care in case something happens to you.
- Schedule a dental check up.
- If you want to have children, take steps to preserve your ability prior to starting chemotherapy or radiation.
- IF YOUR DIAGNOSIS IS AN ADVANCED STAGE OF CANCER OR AN UNUSUAL OR A RARE CANCER
- ONCE A TREATMENT DECISION IS MADE
Newly Diagnosed With Cancer
A new diagnosis of cancer is generally accompanied by a high degree of stress and anxiety and a roller coaster of emotions. In addition to dealing with the possibility of death, there is a lot to learn, many things to consider and questions waiting for answers. Experience has shown that it helps to do the following:
- Take some time to breathe and to let your emotions settle.
- Start working on your mental attitude.
- Keep in mind that at least one person survives every disease. Experience shows that it helps to think of yourself as that person.
- Commit yourself to doing everything you can to overcome your disease.
- People do best who expect the best (even though the first few months will likely be difficult). Don't beat yourself up if you become so overwhelmed that you have days when you can't do anything. If fear threatens to take over, use it as a trigger to take a moment and center yourself to be here now.
- Break things into doable steps. Then deal with each step one at a time.
- Do not make any major decisions that you don't have to make right now.
- Aim to be an informed medical consumer instead of just a "patient."
- Decide who to tell and what to tell them. You can always tell people later. On the other hand, once you tell a person, you cannot "untell."
Following is a list of suggested steps. As you read the list, please keep in mind that there is more information about each step in the other sections of this article. If you are not up to doing these steps yourself, ask a trusted friend or family member to help.
The steps to consider are:
- Contact the doctor who diagnosed you or the doctor's nurse or office manager. Ask the following:
- To repeat the diagnosis.
- What the next step should be. If the next step is to see a different doctor, what specialty? For example, a person diagnosed with cancer is generally referred to an oncologist - a specialist in cancer. If the doctor recommended a particular doctor, ask why that particular doctor or doctors?
- How much time you have before it is advisable to start treatment.
- What would speed up the time table so you know if something happens that you have to move more quickly.
- How to decrease or eliminate pain and any other symptoms you are experiencing.
- Focus on getting the medical care you need.
- Things don't just happen in our medical system. You or a caregiver/patient advocate need to take an active role in making things happen.
- A patient navigator can help guide you through the medical system.
- Ask what you should be doing about your diet and exercise to mazimize your body's ability to heal and withstand treatment side effects. This is known as prehabilitation (or "Prehab" for short.) Prehab is like dressing in armor for the mind and the body - armor that prepares both mind and body for the battle ahead.
- If you work:
- Be cautious telling about your diagnosis right away. You can always tell your boss or co-workers later. On the other hand, once you tell, you can't untell.There is no obligation to tell unless your condition is somehow unsafe for the people around you.
- Consider taking some time off to focus on your condition.
- Start looking at your insurance and financial situation to determine how you will pay for medical care. Medical care can be costly even if you have health insurance. Free or low cost care is available if you do not have health insurance.
- Keep up your finance basics.
- Pay your rent or mortgage and minimums on your credit card. Timely payments are reflected in your credit score. Credit can be important to help pay medical bills.
- Pay your health insurance premium. on time so you do not lose coverage.
- Medical bills
- Start keeping track of all medical services you receive and expenses you pay.
- Do not pay a medical bill just because you receive one. Always check for errors.
- Do not go on a spending spree. You may need the money later.
- Start thinking about family and friends as part of your health care team. Keep in mind that a diagnosis also affects them. If you have underage children, tell them about your diagnosis in an age appropriate manner.
- Learn to purchase, use, store and dispose of drugs wisely. If needed, assistance paying for drugs, or even free drugs, may be available.
- Keep in mind that drugs and treatments do not work in a vacuum. Start to think of the food you eat, the exercise you get, your rest/sleep, and even proper care of your mouth as steps you can take to make treatments and drugs most effective. (If you have dental problems, schedule a check up.)
- Share your emotions. Watch for depression. Consider seeking counseling.
- Speak with other people who are going through what you are.
- Last, but not least, remember that you are a person living with cancer, not a cancerous person. A diagnosis does not define a person.
- It may help to take a few moments to set your own order of priority so you are not overwhelmed trying to think of everything at once. To help set the order that works best for you, consider using Survivorship A to Z's Prioritizer which allows you to reorder priorities with the push of a button.
- Pain does not have to be part of a health condition. If you have pain, speak with your doctor about alternatives for getting rid of it, or at least decreasing how much it hurts. There are even doctors who specialize in treating pain and reducing symptoms. They are known as Palliative Care Specialists. You can receive palliative care at the same time as you work to cure your condition. (For information about pain and how to deal with it, click here.)
- Side effects from your health condition, drugs and/or treatments can be controlled or possibly even eliminated. To learn about various side effects and how to deal with them, click here.
- If you are want to have children in the future, ask if a treatment could affect your ability to have them. If so, consider freezing eggs or banking sperm.
- Information can help you feel in control. When you start treatment, read In Treatment.
- If you could become unable to work, learn about your rights at work and about government and/or private disability income to which you may be entitled (as well as how to apply for it).
- Home health care is available for many situations that used to require hospitalization.
- If your diagnosis is of a condition which is so advanced that you may be facing end of life, read Nearing End of Life.