You are diagnosed with cancer. No one wants to get this news. Sadly, and remarkably, 45% of us will be diagnosed. It is estimated that 1-in-2 men and 1-in-3 women will hear the words, "You have cancer” in their lifetime.
When the shock wears off, it is important to think about the next steps to take as you start walking on the cancer journey.
1. .Figure out who is in your corner
Who is going to support you through this challenging time? Is it a spouse, family member, friends or co-workers? When I was diagnosed, I learned that I needed a variety of people in my support network. While spouses/partners end up being a natural part of the support system, they cannot be the only people to lean on. Many individuals seek others who they can be completely transparent with because cancer brings feelings of fear, doubt, frustration, and sometimes irrational behavior. You may need someone who can listen without an agenda. Spouses/partners tend to be dealing with a whole host of uncomfortable emotions of their own so sometimes they are not the best person on the frontline to talk about your fears and worries. Your family members may need you to be the one “putting on a brave face” even when you do not have one. So find others who can handle your tangle of emotions.
2. Get organized
Whether you like your health materials in a binder or in an online tool, you are the keeper of your medical information and you must be organized. Your physical and financial and legal health depends upon it! Organized does not mean independent or isolated. At appointments, bring another person along to take notes or ask questions. You will be bombarded with complicated information and it is hard to be the patient and the advocate at the same time.
3. Get a second opinion
I always coach people to get a second opinion. While many doctors use similar treatment methods, their bedside manner or view of alternative therapies may differ. You are going to spend a lot of time with this physician and the care organization and they will be intimately influential in your care. It is important to like and trust them. In addition to the oncologist, consider the hospital or office where you will be receiving treatment. How does the staff treat you when making appointments or asking questions? These all may seem like "little things" but those "little things" become exhausting when you are fighting for your health. Make sure you understand your insurance. Some policies require that you get a second opinion to qualify for treatment reimbursement.
4. Start a CaringBridge site or consider a phone tree
For me, it was exhausting to share the details of my cancer diagnosis and treatment multiple times a day with concerned friends and family. A CaringBridge site gave me a single place to share news and updates. The site allowed my friends and family to follow along on my journey and leave encouraging comments or tips without me having to take the energy to meet with everyone individually. If you are not a writer or technologically savvy, consider creating a phone tree with your friends and family where they are responsible for spreading the word.
5. Realize that you will have to let some things go
For many people undergoing cancer treatment, they often need to scale back on their other commitments. Be realistic about how much volunteer work or time you can give to your child's school when you are in the midst of treatment. The reality is you are going to have some days where you do not feel great. For me, I had to pick my priorities and where I was going to expend my energy every day. I recommend people step away from commitments early on and give yourself some breathing room. Your will schedule fill up with appointments, labs, and treatments and they will take more time and emotional energy that you think.
6. Consider joining a support group or getting a therapist
No matter what type of cancer you have, you are bound to have some anxiety. You need a place where you can be real with your emotions when you are down or be angry. At some point, even the most positive patients lament, "Why me?" These feelings are authentic and require a safe place and a sounding board. Do not be surprised, the heavy, depressing feelings of a cancer diagnosis can come to the surface AFTER treatment is completed. You may sense that everyone around you is ready to move beyond the diagnosis and the treatment, but you might need to shift to emotional healing and a therapist can be very helpful.
Exercise during cancer treatment is vital. Research shows that exercise helps manage your stress, sleep, digestion, and maintaining muscle mass and bone health. I recommend two exercise options: The Art of Well for face-to-face exercise classes with a certified cancer exercise specialist or Thrivors online program. I had to shift the way I thought about exercise and, instead of running 35 miles per week, I came to value a short walk, yoga, pilates or stretching.
8. Open your mind to alternative therapies
Have you had acupuncture or massage? Do you meditate or use essential oils? All of these alternative therapies have contributed to better cancer outcomes when coupled with chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Consider what might compliment your treatment regime and be open to it.
If cancer comes to your door, there are things you can do to take control and be prepared. There is a huge support network and resources waiting to help you on the journey.
For recommendations on resources, contact Cathy Skinner, MA, ACSM-CET - firstname.lastname@example.org and 651-587-5440.
Author Stephanie Hansen is a broadcaster, podcaster, social media maven, and a cancer survivor. Connect with Stephanie at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephaniesdish