Facing Cancer: Make a Plan

You just learned you have cancer, and you feel like your whole world has turned upside down. Give yourself some time to absorb the information, then consider this. Cancer is a big deal, but guess what? You’re a bigger deal. You’re smart and you’re strong, and you’ll be better prepared to face the future if you have a solid plan in place. Here’s how to begin:

  1. Learn as much as you can about your diagnosis. Ask your doctor for specific details about your diagnosis and stage, and learn more by researching reputable resources.
  2. Ask your doctor about personalized treatment. Many treatments are being geared toward specific genes or genetic mutations. Ask your doctor if genetic testing would be valuable for you, and if any of the blood or tissue samples gathered during your diagnostic procedures could be used.
  3. Get a second opinion. This doesn’t mean you doubt your doctor. Different doctors may have different opinions depending on their expertise, and you deserve to gather as much information as you can about your diagnosis and treatment options. Most doctors welcome the fact that you’re committed to finding the best care possible and will refer you to another physician. Some insurance companies even require it.
  4. Explore clinical trials. Ask your doctor if a clinical trial is a treatment option for you, and do some research yourself. Many online sites offer lists of available trials. It can be a time-consuming process, and some people find it helpful to use the “divide and conquer” approach with friends and family.
  5. Find a doctor/treatment facility. Look for a doctor/facility with experience and expertise in treating your type of cancer. Ask friends, your general practitioner and advocacy groups for referrals.
  6. Tell your treatment team about your upcoming milestone events. Give cancer only the time and energy that is required to get rid of it. Don’t allow it to take away anything else from you; that includes your personal time, work time, social time and family time. If, for example, your daughter is getting married in three weeks, you wouldn’t want a big surgery scheduled in two weeks. Discuss these milestone events with your treatment team so that they can dovetail these important events that should be preserved for you. Also, ask if you will be able to work during portions of your treatment. In many cases, this is quite doable. It helps you maintain some normalcy, which will reduce stress, and exposes you to a support system among your coworkers. Last, but not least, it helps maintain a whole paycheck and keeps your health insurance coverage intact.
  7. Think big picture about possible treatments. The treatments you’re considering may get you to the same end point. If that’s the case, think about other factors, too, such as side effects (What can you expect? Will they affect your daily life in an extreme way?), where you’ll have treatment (Is it close to home? Will you have to travel?), your treatment schedule (Will it fit in with your work schedule or other commitments?) and the cost (Is one treatment significantly more expensive than the other? Will you have to pay for out-of-town lodging?).
  8. Surround yourself with supporters. No one has to go through this alone. Your friends and family may be wonderful, but nothing compares with talking to someone who has been through a similar situation. Ask your health care team and use the listings in this guide for resources that can match you with another survivor. Who knows? Your experiences could help someone else.
  9. Meet with the financial representative on your health care team. The costs associated with treating cancer can cause financial and emotional stress. It’s best to have a clear picture of what you’re up against, so you’re not alarmed by unexpected expenses. Many resources, including those in this guide, are available to help you manage the financial aspects of cancer treatment.
  10. Ask about palliative care. Palliative care focuses on providing physical and emotional relief for symptoms and side effects. It’s often mistaken for hospice care, but it actually accompanies your regular treatment. Starting it early in the treatment cycle has been shown to not only improve quality of life but even potentially lengthen life.
  11. Timing is important. Every diagnosis is unique, and it is crucial to be aware of timing. Your doctor may recommend beginning treatment immediately. If so, you may still learn more about your diagnosis and continue to explore additional options throughout treatment.


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