Connecting with cancer survivors
Cancer is a conversation stopper. Regardless of type, this disease is a sad, scary subject, and most people would prefer to avoid it. Even if your life hasn't been touched by cancer there's a good chance it will be in the future. And many cancer survivors are very open about discussing their experience (although it's always a good idea to ask if they're comfortable talking about it with you). Rather than burying your head in the sand, why not look at the conversation as an opportunity to inform yourself? By gathering valuable information and forging connections with others who are dealing with cancer, you might well make a lifesaving difference when you or someone you love is in the same grim situation.
Knowledge is power
I know firsthand what it's like to live through a cancer war. In 2006, I lost my 45-year-old husband, Gordon, after a two-year battle against a rare form of cancer. There were mistakes made at the first cancer treatment facility that we trusted. Would things have been different had we found the right treatment facility sooner? I'll never know, but I learned the hard way that "knowledge is your armor, and the right cancer treatment is your weapon." That's why I believe that networking about cancer — even before you're faced with the challenge — is important.
The top five questions to ask cancer survivors
What type and stage of cancer did you (or your loved one) have?
This is an important question because no two cancers are alike. Even if someone has been diagnosed with the same type of cancer as you, the stage of his or her particular diagnosis may be different, and that can mean a drastic change in the treatment regimen.
What was the primary cancer treatment facility involved in your (or your loved one's) care?
All cancer treatment facilities are not created equal. The best facility for you should be determined by factors such as having the right equipment for your particular cancer needs, in addition to on-staff qualified oncologists and a cancer team who deal with your type of cancer on a regular basis.
Who was the primary oncologist at that facility who directed your (or your loved one's) care?
There are many oncologists at every facility. Some are good; some are not as good. Some deal exclusively with lung cancer, others only with blood-borne cancers. The next step is to find out the name of the oncologist, whether the result was good or bad. Write it down!
What do you believe was the key to the success or failure of the cancer treatment?
The attributes that lead to the success or failure of a cancer campaign are critical. Was the cancer discovered too late? Did the patient get a second — or even third — opinion? What was her attitude through the fight? Did she have to wait a long time if she had a problem that came up, or was it addressed right away? Were there support groups available during her treatment, and did she take advantage of any of them? The answers to these questions can be vital information.
What organizations were the most helpful to you?
Whether the person you're talking to is a caregiver or a cancer survivor, make a point to congratulate her on being an inspiration. Both are tough paths, and the people who walk them deserve respect. And don't forget to thank her for offering the information that may someday save your life.
More on coping with cancer