“You have cancer.”
Three little words. A life-time of change.
Maybe you’ve recently received this news. Or a loved one has shared that he / she has and you’re doing some research about how to make sense of it.
A lot of emotions run through one’s head after learning about a cancer diagnosis. The following are things you should look to do immediately following a cancer diagnosis.
Don’t Freak Out
A cancer diagnosis is the first step in a treatment plan. Next comes staging, which helps tell your medical team how invasive the disease is and a plan of attack for treatment.
With my own personal experience, I did the opposite of this advice. I immediately started ensuring all of my online account logins and passwords were available for my wife as well as my online retirement savings account.
I started having unhealthy internal dialogues about life.
The best way to combat this period of time is to have a support system; people you can communicate with openly and freely.
Don’t Freak Out
Seriously. It’s nearly an impossible task, but a cancer diagnosis is a word, not a sentence. Treatment options, both front line and clinical trials, are allowing patients to have higher success outcomes.
OK. You’re allowed one freak out moment. It is OK – this is a scary thing. This will be a great lesson in how you treat other scary moments that will likely be upcoming for you, like the fear of cancer recurrence once treatment is complete.
Read on for steps to take once you’re ready to face your diagnosis.
Look For Support
If you’re lucky, you’ll have friends and family who are in close proximately to where you live.
If this is you, good. Now don’t be shy or bashful to start asking for help.
It’s hard for some of us to really out of our way and ask for help. Start getting used to it now, because during staging and treatment, you’re going to want help. Whether it’s driving to and from appointments, helping with childcare, helping with meals, or just having someone around… ask for help. Know who you can rely on. And rely on them.
Online support is almost as important. There are many different websites and groups out there who provide support, from general cancer groups to specialized ones. Here’s a list of ones that I know of today; let me know if you want to add any to the list.
- Stupid Cancer (they also have a Stupid Cancer iOS app that allows for direct messaging)
- r/Cancer on Reddit
- Cancer Survivors Network
- Belong (app for both iOS and Android)
Along with this general list of support communities, look for one that is of your particular cancer type so seek out others who are experiencing what you’re going through. A list of several of those are below; let me know if you want me to add any to the list.
- The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (community and online chats for blood cancer patients and caregivers)
- Breastcancer.org’s community
- Fight Colorectal Cancer
Start opening a dialogue with others who have gone through that you have. Ask for things they wish they would have known when they went through the process. No doubt, you’ll start hearing about things you didn’t even think about yet.
A pet can also be a source of happiness and a “constant” in your life during this cancer diagnosis phase. Sometimes, getting a pet to help you deal with a diagnosis – if you have the right support system – can be a beneficial thing to do.
Start Thinking About Finances
Cancer care can be costly. US News cited ASCO in stating that newly approved cancer drugs cost an average of $10,000 per month, with some therapies topping $30,000 per month.
This doesn’t factor in any major surgeries that a patient might have, or testing for staging purposes for follow-up care.
The average yearly out-of-pocket costs associated with a new diagnosis was as little as $2,116 for low-income Medicaid beneficiaries to $5,976 for those in a Medicare Advantage or HMO program, and as high as $8,115 for those with no Medigap or supplemental insurance.
Strikingly, patients who hadn’t purchased supplemental insurance reported average annual out-of-pocket costs of one quarter of their entire yearly income, while one in ten patients said the costs amounted to at least 63 percent of their annual income.
Let’s then look at the total picture, not just money spent on treatment. But things like having to take work off, travel and more. Duke Magazine back in 2011 looked at expenses for 216 individuals. What they found:
Yet even with health insurance, out-ofpocket expenses averaged $712 a month for doctor visit copays, prescription medicines, lost wages, travel to appointments, and other expenses.
Such expenses presented a significant burden to 30 percent of study participants and a catastrophic problem for 11 percent.
This isn’t meant to scare you. This information is meant to get the message across to start doing your due diligence when it comes to contacting your health plan company and getting a clear picture on what your deductible is, when it ends for the year (typically at year end but some health plans do this differently), and other questions you may not have had to ever think about.
The American Cancer Society has a good overview resource of typical expenses when going through a cancer life-event.
Look Into a Second Opinion
The Mayo Clinic nails it when it comes to why someone who is newly diagnosed with cancer should seek a second opinion:
Cancer can be complicated to diagnose and manage. Getting a second opinion helps you feel more confident about your diagnosis and treatment plan.
A second opinion should never upset the doctor who gave you your initial diagnosis. In fact, it’s quite the contrary; a doctor should feel confident in obtaining a second opinion that is in agreement with her own.
This second opinion can be crucial in learning about clinical trials that might be an idea for treatment.
Most health plans cover the cost of seeking a second opinion when it comes to cancer diagnosis. Check with your own (see the section above: Start Thinking About Finances) and confirm.
For the best possible perspective, I’d recommend looking to obtain a second opinion (if the first isn’t from it) from an NCI-designated cancer cancer center. You can can a list of these in the United States at the NCI website.
Once you receive a cancer diagnosis, a whirlwind time begins.
What you need to do is take care of you as much as possible. And that means arming yourself with a support system, both physical and online, planning your financial situation, and looking at obtaining a second opinion.
A friend of mine told me a quote that I still remember to this day, after I told her of my own cancer diagnosis. Her husband was diagnosed with leukemia and went through a year-long battle against it. I’ll leave these words below:
Fate whispers to the warrior “You cannot withstand the storm” and the warrior whispers back – “I am the storm.”