A diagnosis of cancer is a life-altering event. Dale Shepard, MD, PhD, of Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute offers tips on the actions to take when you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer.
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.