Expert Commentary: Delia Chiaramonte, M.D. 01/27/2010

Posted by Admin on January 27, 2010

Once a doctor says "you have cancer", your whole world turns upside down. Most people feel confused, afraid and out of control. Here are the 5 most important things to do after your diagnosis.

  1. Learn about your condition - Knowledge is power so before you do anything else you must become an expert on your cancer.  This will help you speak effectively with doctors, ask the right questions and assure that you are getting the best possible care.  The internet is a wonderful source of information as long as you use it wisely.  Be sure to stick to expert medical websites such as The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (www.nccn.org) and The Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.com) and avoid non-medical blogs or websites that sell therapies or treatments.
  2. Build a support team - Dealing with cancer is tough and you’ll need to create a support system to get through it smoothly.  Start by making 2 lists.  The first is a list of all the tasks that will need to be done: choosing a doctor, transportation to appointments, watching the kids while you are at treatment, raking the leaves when you’re too tired, etc.  Be sure to include things like ‘keeping my spirits up’ and ‘someone to call in the middle of the night.’  On the second list write down all the people who might be of help to you.  Look outside your immediate circle of friends and family to include co-workers, neighbors, and parents of your kids’ friends.  You’d be surprised how many people want to help once you tell them what you need.  Now simply match the people to the tasks.  It can be helpful to ask one person to be your advocate and have them approach the others for help
  3. Seek expert medical advice - It’s fine to see the first oncologist or surgeon that you are referred to, but you may not want to stop there.  Almost everyone with cancer can benefit from a second opinion, either to get new information or to confirm that you are on the right treatment path.  Be sure that your second opinion doctor is on staff at a different hospital than your first.  Medical institutions can develop a ‘group think’ and you may get more useful information if you see someone who is not affiliated with your other doctors.
  4. Make wise decisions - Not every decision is right for every person and no one knows you better than you know yourself, so don’t rely on your doctor to make your decisions for you.   Is it better to take a safer treatment that can treat, but not cure, your cancer or a riskier one that might knock it out completely?  Is it worth it to give up a leg, a breast or your fertility to decrease the chance that your cancer will come back?  No one can make these decisions for you – not even your doctor.  Get all the information that you can and then compare the facts with your personal goals and values.  You are the expert on you.
  5. Make a wellness plan - Getting through cancer with your mind, body and spirit intact requires more than medical treatments.  This is the time to clean up your diet, manage your stress, and use all the resources available to help you to maximize your health and wellness.  You might choose yoga for relaxation, guided imagery tapes to help with sleep or acupuncture for the nausea and fatigue brought on by chemotherapy. 

It would certainly be better not to have cancer. But if that isn't an option, it is best to approach your health from a position of strength and knowledge. By educating yourself using your personal and medical resources wisely and creating a wellness plan you can make a challenging situation signficantly easier.

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