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Becoming a Proactive Cancer Patient

Experts explain what newly diagnosed cancer patients need to know to help fight their disease.
(continued)

Don't Be Afraid to Rock the Boat continued...

Rocking the boat also means not accepting everything your doctors tells you as gospel. If you feel the need for a second or even third opinion on any aspect of your cancer care, get one.

This advice is equally true for people who suspect they have cancer or some other serious problem, but have been told nothing is wrong, Kennedy says.

"If a doctor is dismissive or hard to communicate with, or tells you nothing is wrong when your gut tells you it is, you need to find another doctor," she says.

Forty-seven-year-old Julie Gomez learned this lesson the hard way. The Houston woman saw a long line of doctors for a painful stomach problem for almost a decade before her rare gastrointestinal cancer was finally diagnosed.

"I was told I had acid reflux or that I ate too fast," she says. "One doctor did all the right tests, and actually saw something on the scan but told me he just didn't believe it. That was eight years before I was finally diagnosed."

Talk to Other Patients

Gomez has had four surgeries to remove gastrointestinal tumors in the 10 years since her cancer was diagnosed, and she may face more in the future if the tumors target her liver or grow big enough to block her intestines.

She now volunteers at a telephone hot line run by M.D. Anderson that matches cancer patients with people who have had the same diagnosis or treatment.

"My cancer is so rare that I didn't meet another person who had it until five years after my diagnosis," she says. "It was very, very lonely."

Gomez now talks to at least one person a week with her disease in her volunteer role, and she believes this is one of the best things patients can do to learn about their illness.

"The Internet is a great learning tool, but it can also scare you to death," she says. "The statistics, especially, can be misleading. They may tell you survival for your disease is less than five years, for example, but if most people with your cancer are diagnosed in the 60s and 70s and you are in your 30s, that may not apply to you."

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