Cancer Diagnosis? What You Need to Know
An Important First Step
When you have a cancer diagnosis, it is normal to feel frightened, sad and worried. People who have had cancer often talk about experiencing three feelings: loss of control, unwanted aloneness and loss of hope.
These resources, tips and guides can help you gain a sense of control as you face decisions about your treatment and care. We can help you navigate the health care system so you can manage the tests, doctor's appointments, and insurance issues.
Here at the Cancer Support Community you can find that you are not alone, regain a sense of control, and learn there is always hope.
The next few weeks will be a busy time, as you face decisions about your treatment and care. Navigating the health care system – the tests, doctor’s appointments, figuring out insurance and more – can feel overwhelming. But, it is ok to ask for help.
One of the first things to do is think about who in your life is a helping presence. It might be your spouse or partner, friends, faith community, support group or co-workers. Make a list of specific ways they can help.
If you are unsure of what to ask people to do, below are some questions to consider:
- Who would I like to talk with about treatment decisions? Or join me at appointments?
- Who can help me with practical support, such as figuring out work leave, meals, family care, driving or cost of care questions?
- Who can help serve as a point person to keep other people updated?
- Are there other people in my life that will also need help? Who can help them?
People on your health care team, particularly a nurse or social worker, can help you find resources for social, emotional and practical support.
Choosing Your Health Care Team for Cancer Treatment
An important decision you will make about your cancer treatment is choosing a doctor, a team and a cancer center that has the expertise to treat your cancer.
As you learn about your cancer diagnosis and treatment options, ask your doctor how soon you need to make a treatment decision. You may seek a second or even third opinion. Being able to talk openly and feel comfortable with your doctor, nurse, social worker, and other office or health care team staff is important. Here are some questions to consider asking as you choose your team:
About your cancer diagnosis:
- What type of cancer do I have?
- What stage is my cancer? What does that mean?
- What symptoms of cancer might I experience?
- What other types of tests will I need?
- Where can I get a second opinion?
About your cancer treatment:
- How much experience do you have in treating my specific type of cancer? Are you board certified as an oncologist or are you certified in another specialty?
- Are you associated with a major medical center, medical school or comprehensive cancer center?
- What are the treatment goals (is it to cure the cancer, control the cancer, or relieve symptoms)?
- Which treatment do you recommend, and why?
- Are there treatment options are available for me?
- What are the risks and benefits of each treatment option?
- What side effects might I experience, and how can they be managed or prevented?
- What treatments and other services are covered by my insurance? What options are there to help cover costs?
- Where can I get a second opinion?
- Are there any clinical trials here or somewhere else that might be appropriate for me?
- What emotional and practical support services are available to me and my loved ones?
Making the Most of Your Doctors Visits
It is ok to ask any questions you have. You have the right to understand medical terms and cancer treatment options. You have the right to make choices about your treatment and care, even if the opinion of your doctor is different.
Talking about how you feel—and what you do or do not understand—helps both you and your doctor take care of your health. Your visits can go by quickly. Here are some suggestions to help before, during and after:
- Before the visit, take a few minutes to think about and write down any questions you have
- Bring a friend or family member with you to help take notes—or ask a nurse.
- If your doctor prescribes new medications, follow-up tests, or other things you need to do after the visit, write this information down. Once your doctor is done, read your notes back to the doctor or nurse. This will help to catch any information you may have missed or didn’t understand.
- Always ask questions if you have them. If you don’t have any questions at that time, ask who you can reach out to if you have questions later on.
- Write down the time and date of your next appointment.
Learn how to get organized and comfortable in asking the questions you need to have answered as you work together with your doctor to make a decision about which treatment is right for you.