Hearing the words "You have cancer" can be a scary, confusing and isolating experience. It can feel like you are watching it happen to someone else, like it is all a bad joke or simply not real. In the movies, the protagonist typically springs into action, finding her doctor and immediately starting treatment – in reality, most people take the time to absorb the news, talk to family and friends and meet with their doctor again to learn more information and talk further, and even seek multiple opinions to get different treatment options or confirm the original diagnosis and treatment plan.
First, breathe. You did not do anything to deserve this, and you likely could not have controlled it – but you can control how you react and where you go from here. Many people may not fully hear everything the doctor says after hearing a diagnosis. Ask to meet with the doctor again to discuss your diagnosis and treatment options further, and bring someone with you; two sets of ears are always helpful. If no one can go with you, bring a tape recorder or a notebook to take notes so you do not forget anything that is discussed.
Ask for copies of all your tests and medical records related to the diagnosis. These are your records and you have a right to have a copy, though you will likely need to sign a release form requesting them. Even if you do not take them to another doctor for a second opinion, it is good to have a copy for your records.
Get a second opinion, even if you like and trust your doctor. Some doctors may take different treatment approaches based on the research, and some facilities may not be aware of the latest advances in treatment, especially if they are not a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center or a specialist.
Learn about your diagnosis, its treatment, side effects and survival rates so that you can make informed decisions that are the best for you at each juncture. If you do not understand something, ask your doctor or nurse; good providers will not hesitate to explain things to you and help you in any way they can.
Though you may not feel like it, take care of yourself as best as you can. Eating well, getting rest and exercise can all help boost your immunity, reduce stress and help you feel better. Ask for help when you need it, and if you start to feel too overwhelmed, notice feelings of depression or self-isolation, or need extra support, seek a support group or professional counselor. Cancer is hard enough; you do not have to do this alone.
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