A Cancer Diagnosis: What to Do Next?
Experts explain how to take control of your life after a cancer diagnosis.
After a Cancer Diagnosis: Taking a 'Whole Life' Approach continued...
Treatment for cancer is highly complex and individualized. Your cancer
treatment plan will depend on many factors, including the type of cancer you
have, it’s location and stage of development, your current state of health, and
your goals for treatment and quality of life. Seeking a cure regardless
of the discomfort of treatment, or pursuing comfort above all else, are both
reasonable treatment goals.
To make informed decisions, you will need to understand your cancer
treatment options, which could include:
- Surgery (a major or minor operation to remove cancer)
- Chemotherapy (using anticancer medication that acts throughout the
- Radiation therapy (using high-energy beams or implants to kill cancer
- Immunotherapy (using products of the immune system as medicine against the
You can find more detailed information on therapy on trusted web sites, and
by talking with your doctors.
You may want to consider participating in a clinical trial. Clinical trials
compare a cancer treatment known to be effective against one that shows promise
to be equal or better. Clinical trials are ongoing for almost every form of
cancer. The decision to enter a clinical trial is complicated but well worth
considering. If you are interested in a clinical trial, talk the matter over
with your doctor. The following nonprofit groups can provide more information
on clinical trials: The Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups (CCCG); the
National Cancer Institute Physician Data Query (PDQ); and the American Cancer
Society Clinical Trial Matching Service.
Also, be skeptical of statistics. Statistics can help, or they can “mess
with your head,” says Fincannon. Even if the odds are favorable, “people are
often haunted by the numbers,” she adds. Consider your own preferences and ask
your oncologist to communicate appropriately. “Some patients may like to know
lots of … statistical detail,” says Fisch. If not, “ask your doctor to
use the words ‘most’ or ‘some’” in place of percentage numbers, suggests
Communicating With Friends and Family Members
Support from family and friends after a cancer diagnosis can be literally
lifesaving. At the same time, experts warn, dealing with all the well-wishers
can wear you out. The key: getting the support you need while reserving time
and energy for treatment and recovery. A few guidelines can help:
- Don’t hide your cancer diagnosis. “Protecting” children or others from the
bad news usually makes the situation worse.
- When people ask if they can help, give them specific tasks. Driving you to
an appointment, or helping with child care are examples.
- Start a web site or designate a contact person to share information among
family and friends.
- Expect awkward conversations -- even inadvertently hurtful comments or
behavior -- from well-meaning friends.