By Virginia ‘Ginya’ Carnahan, APR, CPRC – Dattoli Cancer Center & Brachytherapy Research Institute
On what could possibly be the worst day of your life you hear your doctor say, “We have the test results. I’m sorry – you do have cancer.” Cancer – cancer – cancer … it echoes in your head. Even if you’ve been fore-warned and have been contemplating what a diagnosis of cancer would be like, you really were not quite ready for this.
For many people a diagnosis of cancer equates to a death sentence. This is especially true if the person has experienced a loved one dying of the disease in the past. The specter of cancer is difficult to erase from one’s thought patterns and memories. It has been a great human fear for many decades.
However, many more people actually survive cancer today than die from it. Our generation is the first that can say this, but the old memories persist.
How you respond to the diagnosis can have a huge impact on your experience with cancer, regardless of the prognosis. Here is advice for what to do if you find yourself in this situation.
FIRST – take a deep breath. Take a minute to process what the doctor has told you. You may want to ask the doctor to give you a few minutes to formulate your response.
WHAT TO ASK – you may simply start by asking, “What does this mean for me?” The doctor will explain what organ is involved and what you could expect from treatment and if the cancer is not treated. You will need to know the stage of your cancer. This will tell you how advanced the cancer is. The stages are referred to as TNM stages. T is the tumor … how big is it, where is it located? N is for lymph nodes, which are the route cancer cells use to spread throughout the body. Have the cells invaded any lymph nodes? M is metastasis … it means the cells have already spread to distant sites in the body. Ask if your cancer has been found early?
If so the stage will be a low Stage One. Stage Two and Three are cancers that have been growing some time. Stage four is an advanced case.
WHAT KIND OF TREATMENT IS THERE? – Ask the doctor to explain what he suggests for your treatment. He may want to refer you to an expert in the type of cancer you have. Ask him for any material he may have about your type of cancer. The doctor might set up an appointment for you to meet with a “patient navigator” or “patient advocate.” Take advantage of this. This person will have more time to answer your questions and advise you of things you may not even think of.
DECIDE HOW TO COMMUNICATE YOUR DIAGNOSIS TO OTHERS – You may want to keep your cancer diagnosis quiet. There is no stigma to having cancer but it is a highly personal thing. It will be easier for you if your spouse and/or close family members and friends know what you are going through. Whether you share this news with co-workers and others is up to you. Most people are very understanding and supportive if they know what you are dealing with.
DON’T MAKE A TREATMENT DECISION IMMEDIATELY – There are very few cancers that will need emergency treatment right away. You will most likely have time to digest this news and to consider your treatment options.
SEEK A SECOND OPINION – This may be the most important thing to do. You have to try to remember that doctors are a kind of salesmen, too. They believe in what they do and usually believe that what they do is the best treatment for their patients. But there are usually other options that you could consider. Think of it almost like buying a car. If you are looking at Chevrolets, the salesman is not likely to suggest that you go test drive a Lexus.
GATHER INFORMATION – Go to the library or internet to research information about your type of cancer, but beware of bold claims and promised cures. There is no filter on the internet, so people can publish anything on the internet. Look for respected sources such as the American Cancer Society, or university-based research programs. Don’t spend too much time browsing the internet because you will find wildly differing opinions and advice. It is easy to get overwhelmed.
FIND A SUPPORT GROUP – This is a great way to talk to other people who have been through the same thing you are facing. They can share their successes with you, and give good advice. This is often the best way to learn who/what is good in your community – and who/what isn’t. Your local hospital probably has information on area support groups.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF – While you are going through this demanding time, don’t neglect your general good health. You will find it easier to deal with the pressures of deciding on treatment, etc. if you stay well-nourished and rested. It may sound crazy, but sometimes people forget to eat when they are focused on a difficult decision. Eat three times a day and take your vitamins. Your immune system can get stressed and make you more susceptible to viruses and such. Try to get plenty of sleep, too. It is important to keep your mind sharp and your body fueled for the challenges that lie ahead.
BE BRAVE – Ask for help in understanding your situation. Medical clinicians sometimes seem to speak a foreign language … called “medicalese.” If someone is advising you and uses words you don’t understand, stop them and ask them to explain what they mean. Don’t be embarrassed.
DON’T BECOME AN OSTRICH – The worst thing you can do is bury your head in the sand. Take the time you need to come to grips with the fact and then move forward to educate yourself about the cancer, its prognosis and your treatment options.
Dattoli Cancer Center
2803 Fruitville Road – Sarasota, FL 34237
1-877-DATTOLI | www.dattoli.com