When the Diagnosis is Cancer

Tips and tools for those newly diagnosed
Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 8:47am
Executive Director, Patient/Family Experience

Hearing that you or a loved one has cancer can feel terrifying and overwhelming. First, take a deep breath.  And another. Deep breathing is one way to help reduce stress so that you can better cope with the challenges ahead.

It’s important to realize that more than half of people diagnosed with cancer will be cured or their disease will be effectively controlled. Effective treatment options are available and new discoveries are rapidly being made to improve therapies and better manage symptoms and side effects. Take a bit of time to determine the best course of treatment for you. In most cases, decisions do not need to be made immediately and the outcome will not be affected by taking one or two weeks to learn and consider next steps.

With a new cancer diagnosis comes the need to make many choices regarding physicians and hospitals, treatment and day-to-day living. Becoming knowledgeable about your illness and treatment options will help you feel more in control and better able to make the best decisions for you. Look for information in the books, brochures and websites of reputable organizations, such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the wealth of information available on the internet, visit the Roswell Park Cancer Resource Center to gather reliable information about your disease. Breast cancer patients and your loved ones can seek information and support from our WNY Breast Cancer Resource Center. Talking to medical professionals, friends and family can also provide useful input. This is a good time to start a notebook to record the information you are learning and the questions you have. You may want to buy a binder, use formatted pages or read about other patients’ suggestions for organizing your information.

Finding the Right Care

As you begin to search for care, determine what your insurance covers. Many plans have advisors to help you identify physicians and hospitals that are in your plan and have expertise treating the kind of cancer you have. Because all insurance plans are different, it’s important to check—even before you receive a diagnosis of cancer—to make sure your plan provides access to comprehensive cancer care, like that provided at Roswell Park.

In choosing a hospital or doctor for treatment, certain factors are important to consider. Hospitals are evaluated on key metrics such as quality and safety, and their certifications as well as affiliations are often signs of competence and excellence. For physicians, training, board certification and experience treating your particular cancer type are chief concerns.  Don’t hesitate to ask physicians about these and any other issues you feel are important in helping you decide. The NCI fact sheet on this topic may provide you with a useful list of questions. 

When you meet with a doctor for the first time, you may want to bring one or more friends or family with you to take notes. Another option is to tape record your meeting.  It’s well known that patients only remember a small portion of what is communicated during doctor visits, and you want to retain as much information as you can. 

The Importance of a Care Team

Because cancer is a complex disease, patients are best treated using a team approach to care, as we do at Roswell Park. This is called “multi-disciplinary care” and patients treated this way often have the best outcomes. Surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, nurses, pathologists and mental health professionals, among others, may all play significant roles on your team. Make sure to ask about the team your doctor will be working with to plan and guide your care. Also, depending on the type and stage of your cancer, taking part in a clinical trial may be a consideration. At Roswell Park, we have a robust clinical trials program, providing access to therapies and new approaches not available elsewhere. Discuss your options with your doctor and whether there are any that could be right for you. 

Second Opinions are Valuable

Consider getting a second opinion. This involves meeting with another doctor to learn their view on your diagnosis and treatment options. According to the American Cancer Society, it is common to get a second opinion and most doctors are comfortable with it. Having more than one evaluation of your test results and additional opinions regarding your treatment options will help you feel more confident in your decisions. Roswell Park physicians are happy to offer an additional opinion on a diagnosis or recommended treatment plan.

You’re Not Alone

Most importantly, take care of yourself. Think about joining a support group for people with cancer. They offer information and comfort, teach coping skills, and help reduce anxiety as well as provide a place for people to share common concerns and emotional support. Research has shown that people with cancer are better able to deal with their disease when supported by others in similar situations. Also, organizations such as CancerCare provide free counseling and support groups in person, online and by phone for cancer patients and their caregivers.

At Roswell Park, we also have patient navigators that can help guide you through your treatment. These trained professionals can help you overcome any obstacles that may prevent you from beginning or continuing treatment, and they can also connect you with additional resources and support.

In addition to patient navigation, Roswell Park offers a complete menu of support services to help you cope with the emotional, mental, financial and physical impact of cancer. These include Supportive and Palliative Care, Psychosocial Oncology, Pastoral Care, Rehabilitation Services, among other support services

You do not have to face cancer alone. Many resources are available to help you make decisions and manage your life when the diagnosis is cancer.