Have you just received a cancer diagnosis? Aren’t sure where to start? Here are 5 things to avoid after a cancer diagnosis:
1. Don’t Engage in Haphazard Google Searches
Most of us will admit that our knee-jerk reaction after learning of a medical diagnosis is to search the internet. Some of us are sorry we did. Others are given a sense of control.
Amassing information often helps us feel proactive and in control of a very out-of-control situation. Frequently, it is the family or friends of patients who dig into the data to provide support or assistance.
I feel the Internet can be a valuable resource. However, I am also aware that it can also be a major source of fear, stress, and anxiety.
Try typing “cancer” into your search bar, and you will find it yields 3,740,000,000 results. “Cancer prognosis” yields close to 3 billion results. With all of that data, there is plenty to be fearful and anxious about.
I recognize the choice to dive into the Internet is a personal one. However, you should avoid doing so haphazardly. If you choose to dig in, I suggest you do so with the guidance and expertise of someone who can lead you to vetted resources, interpret, and manage the data to make the most of your findings.
If you’re interested, read our blog covering 5 questions to answer about your cancer before searching the internet.
2. Don’t Take On Someone Else’s Story
Unfortunately, cancer will affect 1 in 3 Americans in their lifetime. That means almost all of us will know someone who will have a direct or indirect experience with cancer.
It is human nature to want to “share” our experiences, and we do so for a variety of reasons.
I remember the myriad of strangers who wanted to share their “birth stories” with me during my pregnancy (whether I wanted to hear them or not). Some of them were pretty horrific.
However, the point is this: even if someone has been given the same diagnosis (lung cancer, for example) it can be an entirely different disease from person to person.
In 2003, the completion of the Human Genome Project marked a dramatic shift in the understanding of cancer and other diseases. Researchers mapped the entire human genetic code and discovered that every human cell is made up of 20,000 to 30,000 genes.
Each of us has the same set of approximately 20,000 genes, with slight variations in each gene. These variations create individual differences among people. For example, we all have a gene for hair color, however, slight variations of the gene dictate redhead or brunette.
The human body contains 50 trillion cells. Within the cells are DNA, or the instructions for how the cell functions. Genes are found in the DNA of the cell, and they provide that cell’s “recipe” for how quickly it grows, how often it divides, and how long it lives. This recipe provides very specific instructions to ensure the cell remains healthy and functions correctly.
As a cell goes through the natural cell cycle, it makes copies of its recipe during cell division. With each division of the cell the probability of a mistake increases. As you hand recipes down from generation to generation, each transcription of the recipe poses a greater risk for mistakes and/or alterations of the end product.
Mistakes in the cell’s recipe are called mutations. A disruption in the normal cell cycle (cell growth, division, and death) can turn healthy cells into precancerous cells, which sometimes multiply and evolve into cancer cells. Cancer cells are rogue cells growing out of control.
All cancers begin with a mistake in the recipe when one or more genes in a cell become mutated.
Your cancer is unique. No one’s cancer is exactly alike. (Even if two people both have lung cancer.)
3. Don’t Face Your Cancer Diagnosis Alone
Another thing to avoid after a cancer diagnosis is isolationism. Now is not the time for multi-tasking.
A cancer diagnosis comes with a wide variety of physical, emotional, and logistical challenges. Even the most self-sufficient individual can quickly become overwhelmed. This is not the time to try to do it all yourself.
Research and coordination of care are time-consuming, and they compound the existing stress and anxieties brought on by cancer. If this seems overwhelming to you, there is help. There are national and local resources available to help you meet your specific challenges in the following areas:
- General Information. Ask your physician for vetted sources of information about your diagnosis.
- Emotional Support. It is not a sign of weakness to seek the support of patient support groups, individual counseling, or peer-to-peer support. Such resources can assist you in managing the loneliness, fear, or anxiety that often accompanies cancer.
- Financial Assistance. When facing a cancer diagnosis, money may be the last thing on your mind. However, a 2011 study by Duke University showed the average cancer patient in the U.S. pays over $8,500 a year in out-of-pocket medical expenses (not covered by insurance). Cancer is an expensive illness, even with insurance. There are resources out there to assist you in managing the cost of cancer.
- Home Care. There is a wide range of health and social services that can be administered in the home. Engaging the expertise of someone with insights into the various options is very helpful in navigating the options best suited for you.
4. Don’t Agree To Things That You Don’t Understand
Your initial appointment with your specialists will be the most amount of time you will have with them throughout your treatment.
After your initial visit, the average amount of time your physician spends face-to-face with you will be 8 minutes. (Yes, this is about the same amount of time it takes to grab a latte or order something on Amazon.)
So how do you ensure these precious moments with your doctor will be used wisely? Here are some tips for maximizing your time with your doctor:
- Before you go. Gather the questions you will need to have the answers to make a confident decision. Prioritize your decision-making in order of importance. Identify someone to go with you as a second set of eyes/ears. Determine what you want to get out of the appointment. What is your objective?
- During your appointment. Ask questions for clarity when things are not clear. Take notes or record the consultation to refer to later. Make sure to recap what you heard the doctor say and the next steps you are to take. Do not leave until you understand your diagnosis, what your options are, and what treatment entails. Continue to ask the clinician to explain in terms you understand until you have a clear picture of what is being presented to you. If you require additional tests, consults, or second opinions, ask if the office will assist you in scheduling those appointments. Remember that you do not have to continue your care with the “referral” that was given to you upon diagnosis. Most insurances will cover the cost of a “second opinion.”
5. Don’t Be Afraid To Share Your Wishes With Others
Advance care planning is not a topic that most of us address until it becomes necessary. (And then, it is often too late.) At any age, a medical crisis could render us too ill to make our own healthcare decisions.
I know for me, it felt like I was jinxing it. I thought that if I planned for the worst, then somehow I was taunting fate for it to happen.
The reality is, we never know when an accident or a medical crisis will occur. Even if we aren’t currently sick, planning for our future health care decisions ensures that we will receive the care we want, especially if we are unable to speak for ourselves.
Planning for your future healthcare is something we all should do regardless of our current health status.
The reality is that having the conversation does not expedite or ensure the outcome. Not only that, but it makes things less chaotic, should physicians or family members ever be put in the position to make decisions on our behalf.
If you’re facing the burden of a cancer diagnosis, know that you’re not alone. Contact us today, and we can schedule a complimentary get-to-know-you call. Hopefully, we’ll be a fit.