According to the Mayo Clinic, “almost half of all men and a third of all women in the United States will receive a cancer diagnosis at some time in their lives.” There is no doubt that a cancer diagnosis can be surprising and frightening, but there are many resources available to help people with a new—or returning—cancer diagnosis. Here is what to do next:
• Get a second opinion – If your primary care physician was the doctor who made the diagnosis, you should consider getting a second opinion from a cancer specialist, or oncologist. Even if an oncologist is the one who diagnoses your cancer, it might be worth getting a second opinion. Even if the doctors agree on your diagnosis, their treatment approaches or bedside manner may be different.
• Bring someone with you – Make sure to bring someone with you to all of your appointments. It can be easy to forget crucial details after you leave the office. Your companion can write down details, make sure that you ask all of the questions you had before your appointment (bring a list!), and help advocate for you if necessary. It’s also important to have support with you, especially if you get bad news.
• Get the details – Make sure to ask about the specifics of your diagnosis. How was it diagnosed —for example, was colon cancer detected based on a colonoscopy after a fecal occult blood test, like ALFA’s iFOB? Do you need additional diagnostic testing? What is the actual name of your cancer? How has it been staged? Has it metastasized, or spread to other parts of the body? All of these details are important and can impact the recommended treatment. In addition, what treatment, including specific drugs, does the doctor recommend? Write down all of this information because it can be easy to forget or mix up complicated names and scientific terms.
• Research – Now is the time to research and discover more about your cancer. Learn about the recommended treatments, find a specialist, and look for information on the internet. Stick to reputable websites, such as those associated with a major medical center or the direct research studies themselves, which you can find at sites such as PubMed.
• Find support – Support is crucial to managing a new cancer diagnosis through treatment and even into survival. Ask your oncologist for a support group referral, or you can check online for one nearby. Even some churches or community centers offer cancer support groups. It is important to find a group that works for you and what you need. If a support group isn’t your thing, speaking with a therapist can also be helpful.
• Ask for help – Cancer and its treatment can be time and energy intensive. Don’t hesitate to ask friends and families for help with cooking meals, driving kids, or doing laundry. Your loved ones will be glad to help so you can get some extra time to rest and recover.