The diagnosis of cancer is life-changing. Not only that, but a majority of us will encounter the diagnosis of cancer in our lifetime– which is thought to be about half of US and UK citizens.
A cancer diagnosis not only affects the patient, but it affects their families as well. How will patients manage the cost? What type of treatment should be done? Can family members be around the person with cancer while they are undergoing treatment?
The above questions are just a few of the many swirls of fears and concerns that flood a person’s mind when they are diagnosed with cancer. Many of these questions can be answered by your doctor, but there are many questions patients should be asking that are not always answered. The struggles and stresses of a new cancer diagnosis should not be downplayed, but rather a patient should be prepared by their providers for what they should expect down the road. While the internet is usually the first place patients turn for information, using a search engine to gather information about cancer can be misleading and overwhelming. It is best to get information directly from an expert and start preparing for how you can start kicking cancer to the curb.
It is not an easy road – but there are options and steps a person can take when the initial diagnosis is made to change the course of their battle. Here are 8 key points to help those newly diagnosed with cancer on their road to recovery:
- Get the Proper Time with Your Doctor
How many times have you left an appointment and forgot the information you were just told or even what to do for follow-up? This is because there is a great deal going on at a doctor’s office, especially doctors who are considered specialists. Doctors are very busy and have a schedule that may be filled with complex and complicated patients. They will make sure you have the information you need before you leave, but they may not be able to give you the time to answer all of your questions. If this is the case, schedule a second office visit to go over questions you have prepared or schedule an online conversation moving forward. Often times scheduling a Telehealth Visit (a virtual visit over the phone) can be scheduled sooner than another in-office visit.
2. Bring a Family Member or Friend
It is good to have a second set of ears and eyes to review and listen to the information during your appointments. The second person is usually calmer because they are not the patient. This allows them to listen more intently and talk with you later about points the doctor has made. A second person can also be present during phone conversations with providers (put them on speaker phone) or during online appointments to help keep you on track. It is actually recommended to have a family member/friend present because the patient can get more out of their time during their doctor visit. Make sure to give the individual a heads-up about a week before and explain why having them present is important.
3. Get a Second Opinion
This is probably the most important point on the list. As Yale Medicine mentions, it is considered smart to know your options when making major decisions (such as buying a house or choosing a college), medical opinions are no exception. When dealing with any serious treatment (especially cancer) get a second opinion. It’s one of the smartest things you can do, helps you weigh your options, know who will give you treatment, and what type of treatment. You are in control. Your doctor can make a referral for a second opinion (they are usually happy to do so), you can research experts/specialists, or you can get a second opinion from a doctor online. Especially with cancer, you should discuss the best route to take for your treatment.
4. Join a Support Group or Online Forum
Your local hospital can provide you with resources to manage financial or emotional stresses you have with your cancer diagnosis. One resource that many patients don’t take advantage of is a support group. There are usually local support groups where you can meet and discuss others in the community sharing your struggles. Another option that is readily available and that more patients are taking advantage of are online forums/groups. Many medical websites offer online spaces for patients to access during their own time to share and gather information on their diagnosis. The American Cancer Society is a great resource for the benefits and information regarding these groups. There are even some websites where doctors post videos of information and their opinions on treatment.
5. Researching Cancer Insurance
Many insurance policies will cover or partially cover cancer treatment. However, there are insurance plans that are just for cancer diagnoses. Some of these policies can even cover travel or lodging expenses when used to get cancer care. Not all of these policies can be bought when you are already diagnosed, but it doesn’t hurt to research or ask. The American Cancer Society has more information on programs and resources for cancer-related expenses. Your doctor or your local hospital may also have information on how they can help.
6. Ask about Cancer Care Essentials
Some hospitals have a “care boutique” or a shop that sells items specifically for cancer patients. These items may be discounted or your local hospital may have coupons/codes for discounts at popular stores online. Care packages (food items, clothing, and items for comfort) are also an option and can make a difference in the experience of the patient during treatments, like chemotherapy.
7. Take Advantage of Your Social Worker
There is a false belief that social workers only oversee or take care of patients who are in financial need or have a disability. Social workers help all kinds of patients, and they especially help cancer patients and other patients who may be vulnerable due to a new disease. Social workers can provide not only practical assistance, but also emotional assistance to patients. Researching and coordinating how you will get care for your cancer can be stressful. Many hospital cancer centers can assign a social worker to patients to improve the coordination of their care.
8. Ask about Clinical Trials
Clinical trials can give patients new treatments for free or at a discounted price. You may also receive more frequent care and follow-up appointments so the hospital can assess the clinical trial. If this is something you are curious about or interested in, let your doctor or nurses know. You can also get more information from the U.S. National Library of Medicine at ClinicalTrials.gov to search for clinical trials in your area. Not only will it provide you with more opportunities on treatments, but you will be contributing to how hospitals can improve treatments for cancer.