I Have Cancer – Now What?

Learning that you have cancer is scary, there is no doubt about it. The sad truth is that more than a third of women, and nearly half of all men, will receive this devastating news at some point in their lives.

After the initial shock and grief start to fade, the inevitable next question becomes: “Now what?” Many people may not be sure what to do next, so we’ve put together a few things that newly diagnosed cancer patients will want to consider as they and their loved ones start this new journey in their lives.

Bring a Reliable Companion to Appointments

1.7 million
new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States in 2018.American Cancer Society

Whether you’re going to the doctor’s office to learn about your new diagnosis, or starting treatments at a cancer clinic, it’s a good idea to have someone you trust at your side. They will be able to ask questions and remember details that you might forget, given your emotional or mental state. They will also be able to help intercede for you and have a more objective viewpoint, if you start to feel pressured or the medical staff throws too many options at you.

Your companion should be someone you trust, such as a partner, family member, or long-time friend. They should also be good with details, so they can help you keep track of information you learn, such as details about your diagnosis and scheduled appointments. If they are assertive and can advocate for you, that is even better.

Learn as Much About Your Specific Cancer as Possible

Not all cancers are cut from the same cloth – in fact, there are many different types and subtypes of cancer, and the treatments for them can differ greatly. For example, the treatment for skin cancer may is going to be very different than the treatment for ovarian cancer. As such, it is important to know as much as you can about the specific type of cancer you have, so you can research and weigh your options appropriately.

Some questions to ask your doctor about your cancer include:

  • Where is the cancer located?
  • What types of cells does it have?
  • How big is the tumor (or tumors)?
  • Has it spread to the lymph nodes or other areas of the body?
  • What stage is the cancer?
  • Is it a slow-growing cancer, or will it spread aggressively?

These are all things your cancer care team will be able to tell you once you have been diagnosed. The answers to these questions will inform what treatment options are available, as well as your prognosis and probable life expectancy.

Explore Cancer Treatment Options

The conventional treatment options for many forms of cancer include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. Depending on what type of cancer you have, one or more of these options may be available to you. Your primary care physician or cancer specialist will help you make treatment decisions and develop a cancer care plan that offers the greatest chance of sending your cancer into remission.

When discussing the best treatment options for you, be sure to ask about other types of therapy that may be available to you. These include:

  • Newer experimental treatments, like immunotherapy, that are being tested in clinical trials
  • Dietary guidelines that can help boost your immune system, manage weight loss, and improve the effectiveness of treatment
  • Medications for side effects of the primary therapies, such as nausea, pain and fatigue
  • Cancer support groups for current patients and cancer survivors, as well as other options for improving mental and emotional well-being
  • Complementary therapies and exercises that have been shown to be effective through scientific medical studies, such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi

It’s also good to ask about what to stay away from. This includes things like dietary supplements and so-called “miracle cures” that have no medical studies backing their efficacy. If you do want to try one of these alternative therapies, talk to your health care provider first to make sure they won’t interact with any treatments you are already taking, or otherwise affect your healing process.

Consider Your Financial Options

One of the first questions many people ask after receiving a cancer diagnosis is, “How am I going to pay for it?” The prospect of being unable to afford your cancer care can understandably cause a lot of anxiety.

In most cases, it is better to investigate payment options and negotiate costs up front, rather than waiting until after you’ve gone through treatment and then trying to figure out how you will pay for it later. Here are a few specific financial options to explore.

Insurance: If you have medical insurance, talk to them right away to find out what will be covered and what won’t. This is especially important for any tests or procedures that need pre approval, since the insurance company could deny payment later if you don’t get that approval up front. You should also check whether the doctors and cancer centers are in your provider network, and understand the different amounts you will have to pay based on the answer.

Medical Center: The hospitals and cancer clinics where you receive treatments will have someone in their financial office who can work with you to understand your financial options. These might include reducing or eliminating certain fees, setting up payment plans, or helping you find grants and other funding to pay for certain procedures.

Clinical Trials: Many clinical trials are funded by governmental or educational grants. If you qualify for a clinical trial, that funding may cover treatments administered as part of the trial. However, make sure you ask about the financial impacts before starting any clinical trials, since health insurance often will not cover unproven therapies, such as those being tested in the trial.

Legal Compensation: If your cancer could have been caused by a harmful product or material – such as talcum powder, weedkiller, or asbestos – you may be eligible to submit a legal claim for compensation from the product’s manufacturer or distributor. In addition, if your doctor failed to diagnose your cancer accurately and in a timely manner, you might be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. If either of these situations fit your situation, you should talk to a lawyer today to discuss your legal options.

Diagnosis Is a Beginning

While a cancer diagnosis can feel like an ending, it’s helpful for many people to also think of it as the beginning of a new stage of their life. Even if the prognosis is poor, knowing that there are things you can do right away after receiving your diagnosis can help you take those first steps on your new journey.