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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 body)
  • Radiation therapy (using high-energy beams or implants to kill cancer cells)
  • Immunotherapy (using products of the immune system as medicine against the cancer)

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 Fincannon.

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.

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