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    A Cancer Diagnosis: What to Do Next?

    Experts explain how to take control of your life after a cancer diagnosis.

    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.

    Financial Self-Care

    A cancer diagnosis requires a financial action plan as well as a medical one. Budgeting for health care costs and ensuring your family’s security require advance planning. Regardless of income, everyone should consider the potential financial impact of a cancer diagnosis.

    In our health care system, insurance makes a big difference in cancer care. If you have insurance, read your plan carefully and talk to your provider about your cancer diagnosis.

    If you don’t have insurance, try to enroll in an insurance plan. While not always easy, joining a large company is the best way to get insurance quickly.

    If you cannot acquire any insurance, your state may be able to enter you into a “risk pool” for the uninsured, which provides health care payments.

    Dealing with financial issues can significantly add to the stress of a cancer diagnosis. This can be a good area to delegate to someone else, like a trusted family member or friend, or a certified financial planner sensitive to cancer issues. Type “financial” into the American Cancer Society’s web site search engine ( for additional helpful information.

    Taking Care of You

    Taking care of yourself after a cancer diagnosis may be the most important task of all -- and the most overlooked.

    Work obligations and other roles -- such as parent, spouse, or caregiver -- will compete for your time and energy. Rule No. 1: your treatment comes first, says Visel. DuHamel reminds people of the airplane advisory: “Put your own oxygen mask on before helping others.”

    After a cancer diagnosis, you owe it to yourself to be your own No. 1 caregiver. Your personal care plan should include the following:

    • Try to keep life “as normal as possible,” says Fincannon. “You’re more than a cancer patient -- you’re who you were before” your cancer diagnosis, she says.
    • Exercise as much as you can. Short walks, even simple stretching, will help.
    • Staying positive is important. However, expressing your feelings -- even ones that seem negative -- is even more important.
    • Learn to rely on others. As Fincannon puts it, “you have cancer -- milk it!” Share responsibilities for child care or elder care with others.
    • Consider speaking with a mental health professional, particularly if you are depressed or anxious. Therapy can help relieve the stress of a cancer diagnosis, and give you a safe place to express your fears and hopes for the future.
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    Reviewed on February 13, 2007

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