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.

1.8 million
new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States in 2020.American Cancer Society

After the initial shock and grief fade, the inevitable next question becomes: Now what? Many people will be unsure about what to do next. 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

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 by your side. They will be able to ask questions and remember details that you might forget, given your emotional or mental state. With a more objective viewpoint, they will also be able to intercede for you if you start to feel overwhelmed.

Your companion should be someone you trust. This might be a partner, family member, or long-time friend. They should also be good with details to help you keep track of learned information and scheduled appointments. An assertive support person can also be an advocate for you.

Note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare providers no longer allow patients to bring companions. But, technology can still allow companions to participate in appointments and healthcare discussions. You can put them on speaker phone during appointments or use a video calling app. With either technology, your advocate can still provide the support you need.

Learn as Much About Your Specific Cancer as Possible

Not all cancers are cut from the same cloth. There are many different types and subtypes of cancer. The treatments can differ greatly between types. For example, the treatments used to battle breast cancer may be different than drugs used to treat ovarian cancer. As such, it is important to know as much as you can about the specific type of cancer you have. That way, 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.

Learn More About Common Types of Cancer

Breast Cancer
Cervical Cancer
Colorectal Cancer
Lung Cancer
Ovarian Cancer
Prostate Cancer

Explore Cancer Treatment Options

The conventional treatment options for many forms of cancer include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy 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. They will also help you develop a cancer care plan designed to improve the chances 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. Additional treatments options include:

  • Experimental treatments 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 treatment options, such as nausea, pain and fatigue
  • Cancer support groups for current patients and cancer survivors
  • Support services for improving mental and emotional well-being
  • Complementary therapies and exercises, such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi

It's also good to ask about what to stay away from. This may include 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 of your current treatments.

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 upfront. 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. This is especially important for any tests or procedures that need pre-approval. The insurance company could deny payment later if you don't get that approval upfront. You should also check whether the doctors and cancer centers are in your provider network, and understand the different amounts you will pay based on that 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. They may be able to help you set up payment plans or find grants 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. Health insurance often will not cover unproven therapies, such as those being tested in clinical trials.

Legal Compensation: If your cancer could have been caused by a harmful product or material, such as talcum powder, weedkiller, carcinogen-contaminated blood pressure or heartburn medication, or asbestos - you may be eligible to submit a legal claim. A settlement or favorable lawsuit verdict can provide 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 you've experienced either of these situations, you should talk to a lawyer today to discuss your legal options.

Diagnosis Is a Beginning

A cancer diagnosis can feel like an ending. Thus, it's helpful for many people to also think of it as the beginning of a new stage in their life. Knowing there are things you can do right away after your diagnosis can help you take those first steps on your new journey.

Authored by Katy Moncivais, Ph.D.Medical Editor
Photo of Katy Moncivais, Ph.D.
Katy Moncivais holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. She’s an experienced Regenerative Medicine Consultant with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital & healthcare industry. Skilled in adult stem cells, medical devices, biomechanics, bacterial and mammalian cell culture, and regenerative medicine, she provides guidance on an array of topics affecting consumers. In her role at ConsumerSafety.org, Dr. Moncivais works alongside the writing and research staff to help deliver fact-based news stories to consumers. Her unique professional history alongside her rigorous educational background allows her to contribute to a variety of consumer-focused topics with a fresh perspective. In addition, Dr. Moncivais reviews portions of medically driven content to ensure scientific accuracy.
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