Elyse Caplan remembers it well, that first conversation with her oncologist.
She had just been diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer, and they were
discussing the game plan for treatment. If her oncologist mentioned
"recurrence" -- the possibility that her cancer could return -- it was
lost on her, she says.
"You sit through an hour-long appointment and take notes, but when the
doctor says one thing that's very upsetting, you just freeze," she tells
WebMD. "You're thinking, 'I'm going to...
Bianca Kennedy heard them five years ago, and, like most people, her initial
emotion was shock, followed by the question, "Am I going to die?"
Kennedy, now 40, was diagnosed with early breast cancer when her then
38-year-old sister was battling the disease for the third time.
"My sister was grossly undertreated the first two times, and I learned
from her experience," Kennedy tells WebMD. "When I was diagnosed I
didn't agonize about how aggressively to treat my cancer because I had seen
what she what she went through."
What Should You Do?
Kennedy ended up having both breasts removed, followed by chemotherapy and
breast reconstruction. She now counsels newly diagnosed patients as a volunteer
for Y-ME, a 24-hour support hot line staffed entirely by breast cancer
She knows firsthand the importance of being an involved, educated patient,
but she says most people need time to come to terms with their diagnosis.
"It is common for people who have just been diagnosed to be overwhelmed
with all the information they are getting and the choices they are being asked
to make," she says. "You are bombarded with facts and figures and
statistics, and it is really hard to keep a cool head. But the choices you make
are critical and they may impact the rest of your life."
So what are the most important things newly diagnosed patients can do to
maximize their odds of beating cancer? WebMD posed this question to doctors,
patient advocates, and cancer survivors, and some common themes emerged. They
Get the Facts
Everyone interviewed for this story agreed that education is critical. That
means learning all you can about the specifics of you own cancer and how to
best treat it. This is especially important for diseases like breast cancer and
lymphoma, where treatments vary greatly.
"I have seen people waste a lot of precious time researching the wrong
thing because they didn't really understand their cancer," says Joan Arnim,
who manages the patient advocacy program at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer
Center. "It is often a good idea to ask your doctor for recommendations
about where to get information about your particular cancer."
Know Your Information 'Comfort Level'
While some patients go into overdrive learning all they can almost
immediately, others either don't feel comfortable doing this or don't want to
know too many specifics.
Internet-savvy family members or friends can be called on when patients
can't do their own research.