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A cancer diagnosis can be one of the most difficult things you encounter in your lifetime. For many, a diagnosis can come out of seemingly nowhere. It's normal to feel anxious or overwhelmed by the uncertainty ahead. While it may feel like a lot is out of your control, knowing what to do next can help you cope and stay positive as you make decisions for your future.
Bring someone with you to your appointments.
When you're newly diagnosed with cancer, it can be difficult to absorb the news, let alone retain any information. Having a family member or friend can ensure that someone else is listening and writing down important information that you'll need in the weeks to come. They'll also be able to offer emotional support as you process your diagnosis. If a loved one is unable to attend in person, we encourage them to participate in the conversation virtually via phone or video.
Ask questions and have an open mind about cancer treatment options.
At your first visit, your doctor will share a lot of details about your cancer, including its size, location, and severity. It's important to ask questions that help you understand your cancer diagnosis so you can confidently make decisions about your care. Consider writing your doctor's responses on paper so that you can reference them later if you need to. Your care team will take all the time they need to answer your questions with realistic but hopeful answers.
Your doctor will also discuss your options for treating cancer, whether it's a cure or symptom relief. Depending on your cancer, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, surgery, innovative clinical trials, or a combination of any of those. To ensure the best possible treatment plan that considers all options, you may meet with a variety of specialists, such as surgical, medical, or radiation oncologists. They'll explain the benefits of your treatment options as well as the potential side effects, taking into account your goals and quality of life.
Sometimes, you may have preconceived opinions about certain treatments. Try to keep an open mind and remember that your doctors will only recommend cancer treatments that are essential in helping you achieve your best outcomes. You'll need to determine what side effects you're willing to tolerate in order to accomplish your treatment goals.
Look to your care team for medical guidance, not the internet.
It can be tempting to go home and look online for information about your cancer type and cancer treatment, but I advise you to take extreme caution in doing so. Even well-meaning friends and family may offer suggestions that don't necessarily apply to you or benefit you. Each cancer case is unique and somebody else's experience may be completely different than yours.
Enlist the help of family and friends.
Sometimes I have patients who prefer to keep their cancer diagnosis private. While this may be appropriate in some instances, the more support you can get, the better you can cope. Cancer treatment often involves a significant investment of time, finances, and emotions from you and your entire family. Whether you need a ride, dinner, childcare, or other practical support, allowing your loved ones to ease your burden a bit can help you to focus on healing.
Make healthy lifestyle changes.
For some, the day a doctor diagnoses them with cancer is a positive turning point in their life. Making lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking or becoming a vegetarian, can make you feel better in the short term and also positively affect your health in the long run. Exercise, yoga, or meditation could also help to alleviate stress, which can lead to better cancer treatment outcomes. You don't have to overhaul your life in a day, but making small, gradual changes one day at a time can help you feel more in control.
Consider proximity when choosing where to go for cancer care.
When you're getting cancer treatment, you want the best doctors and individualized treatment options that are designed for you. While there are rare forms of cancer that may benefit from treatment at a famous medical center, most types of cancer are treatable at community-based hospitals that are conveniently located close to where you live and work with your support network nearby.
At MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, we're part of the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute, which combines medical expertise, the latest therapies, and research across MedStar Health. Here, we're able to treat most types of cancer with a team approach that involves experts across disciplines under the same roof. If you're seeking cancer care in the area, you won't need to travel far to get personalized attention and treatment from an outstanding team that will feel like your second family.