Stunned. Afraid. Confused. Just a few of the words that might describe your state of mind when you learn you have colorectal cancer. And then there’s the big question you want to answer: “What do I do now?”
You don’t have to tackle everything at once. But take a few steps now, and you’ll feel more prepared to begin treatment and handle what comes next. Here are a few ways you can get going in the right direction.
Decide What You’ll Tell Other People
There’s no right time or way to tell others that you have cancer. You may want to start with the most important people in your life -- your partner, family, or friends -- and go from there. Explain the type of cancer you have, the treatment you’ll need, and what your next steps will be.
If you have kids, how much you tell them will depend on their age and what you think they can handle. But reassure them that they can’t “catch” your disease, and they did nothing to cause it -- two common fears kids have.
Since you may need to take time off from work for treatment, it’s important to let your boss or someone in your company’s HR department know that you’re sick. You may want to tell a few co-workers, too.
If you don’t feel like telling dozens of people about your diagnosis, try this: Pick one or two people close to you to spread the word and field questions from others.
If you learn more about colorectal cancer, you might feel more in control of what’s happening. Start by taking a list of questions to your next doctor’s visit. You can also contact the American Cancer Society’s National Cancer Information Center (NCIC) at 800-227-2345, which offers free information and support by phone, email, or live chat.
Some patient advocacy groups, like the Colorectal Cancer Alliance and Fight Colorectal Cancer, also help people get through the disease. Their resources can explain any medical terms you don’t understand, match you with clinical trials, and link you with financial resources if you need help paying for your care.
Set Yourself Up for the Best Care
Choosing a doctor for your treatment is a big decision. Ask your primary care doc or someone else you trust to recommend some. You can then ask which hospitals they work in and if they take your insurance.
Try to talk with your top choices in person or on the phone to make sure you feel comfortable with them. Most importantly, check that they, and their treatment center, have experience with your type of cancer.
When you tell family and friends you’re sick, many will ask, “What can I do to help?” Your first reaction might be to say, “Nothing, thanks.” But support will be important as you fight your disease. So don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, whether it’s a ride to the doctor or help watching your kids.
A support group can be another great resource. Look for one through your hospital, or connect with other people who have colorectal cancer through an online group like the American Cancer Society's Cancer Survivors Network.
All support groups are different. You might have to try a few before you find one you click with.
Make Healthy Changes
Exercise is even more important for people with colorectal cancer. Studies show that physical activity reduces the risk of death after a diagnosis of colorectal cancer. It’s also a great way to keep your stress in check.
Talk to your doctor about how much and what type of exercise is right for you. Many people aim for 30 minutes most days of the week. But if you’re just getting started, try to be active for 10-15 minutes and build up from there.
After treatment, your doctor will likely tell you to change your diet for a while to foods that are easy on your colon. Until then, eat a plant-based diet with at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Cut back on red meat. Choose whole grains like whole wheat bread and brown rice over refined foods like white bread and rice. And opt for low-fat rather than full-fat dairy products.
If you smoke, now’s the time to quit. People who use tobacco do only half as well with treatment for colorectal cancer. Talk to your doctor if you need help kicking the habit.