1halffull's Blog

You’ve got cancer. What’s next?
February 20, 2010, 6:02 pm
Filed under: Cancer, Healthcare, Life, Uncategorized

Let’s talk about cancer.

I think we can all agree on this idea:  Pretty much, it sucks.

If I may, I’d like to share some practical information so that, just in case you find yourself sitting in a doctor’s office and he says to you or  someone you love, “I’m sorry, but you have cancer”, this information will pop into your mind.  It’s meant to help you at a time when you may not be able to think clearly.  

It’s important to know these things ahead of time so that when you are faced with such a diagnosis you won’t allow yourself to be caught up in the terror of the moment and get treatments that ultimately may not have been appropriate for your condition.  Just like when you build a house, you start with a foundation before you put on the roof, so you must lay a plan for a solid treatment foundation to optimize your chances for remission/cure before you embark on carrying out the plan.

First of all, the moment you hear the word cancer – whether it’s yours or the person you love most in the world – I guarantee you won’t hear anything after that word.  Life will stop in that moment as the word cancer goes bouncing around in your head as though it’s a superball.  Typically, while your world has just suddenly flipped upside down, the doctor’s hasn’t so he’ll keep talking.  He’ll be saying things like percentage of cure, you need more tests, you’ll see a surgeon or an oncologist or both.  Pretty much what you’ll hear is your brain screaming at you “You have CANCER” over and over again.  You’ll try to focus, but all’s you’ll hear outside yourself is ‘blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’

The office staff will either want to make appointments for you or they’ll give you cards with names on them of people you should see and talk to.  Given how you’re feeling in this moment, you’ll feel this horrible sense of urgency like you not only want all that information, you want to be able to walk out of this office into the treatment center and get this thing out of you RIGHT NOW!  It’s understandable and a very normal reaction.

That’s why you need to read this next part carefully:  unless you’re in an end stage or have an extremely aggressive cancer, it can wait for a week. 

Why would you wait for a week?

First, you need to digest the fact that you have cancer.  You need for your brain to unfreeze from that first statement:  You have cancer.  You need to be able to restart your heart, take in some air and express your thoughts and feelings first.  What you don’t need is to be rushed into a bunch of procedures that may or may not be right for your personal condition.

If there are more tests that need to be done, begin to have them done.  In the meantime, do your homework.  There is no one better to manage your case than an educated you!  That being said, it is also good to find a family member or friend who cares for you enough to invoke some common sense and good judgement on your behalf.  They need to be your listener and advocate.  This means that they will go to appointments with you and take accurate notes so you’ll be able to review what you heard after the appointment. 

Next you should find out the following:

1.  What is the specific name of my cancer?  Where is it located exactly?

2.  What hospitals and physicians are specializing in my form of cancer?  Where are they located? 

3.  Can I get an appointment with one of them after all my testing is done for an evaluation specific to my case and the cancer that I have?

4.  What are my best treatment options?  Would the specialist prescribe my treatment and work with a local doctor so I could receive my treatment locally?

Once you have as much information as you can get, make a list of additional questions that you wish to ask each doctor.  Let them know at the beginning of your appointment that you have the questions and you aren’t leaving till all are answered. 

A good physician or specialist is one who is going to want you to be completely engaged in your treatment program.  Run away as fast as you can from anyone who will not answer your questions or who tells you not to worry, he’ll be the one to make those decisions. 

Remember these two things: 

1.  While the doctor is (theoretically) the one with the knowledge and experience, the life he’s messing with belongs to you.  It is your right to get the information you ask for. 

2.  You hired him to work with you.  You’re providing his paycheck and you can fire him anytime you wish.  There are many other doctors out there who will be willing to work with you and receive that paycheck!

Finally, remember that there are alternative, complementary medicines that you can also tap into to help enhance traditional medicine’s approach.  A good resource for these can be found through the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX.

I hope you never hear the words “You have cancer.”  But if you do, remember what you’ve read here.  May it serve you well.