Understanding Your Cancer Diagnosis: Key First Steps

Gautam Rajpal
October 6, 2023

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a devastating and overwhelming experience. It is natural to feel a range of emotions like fear, sadness, and uncertainty about the future. While the journey ahead may seem unknown, patients can feel empowered by understanding the first steps they should take along a successful treatment plan. Not sure where to start once you’ve received a diagnosis? Here are some key first steps.

Gather Information

As a patient starts their care journey, it is important to understand the details of their diagnosis. Knowing as much as possible about their cancer and proposed treatment plan can help patients feel more in control and prepared to face the challenges ahead.

Questions are powerful at every stage of the cancer treatment journey. Patients are essential members of their care team and should talk openly with their doctors about the treatment choices that are in their best interest. 

Crucial information for a patient and their family to understand should include the specific type and stage of cancer.

Knowing the stage of cancer can help doctors decide if more tests are needed. It also helps them know the best treatment to offer, as well as the expected response to treatment.

Patients should ask their care provider questions about their treatment plan, including:

  • Names of preferred or recommended specialists
  • Names of any drugs or treatments they can expect to receive
  • The estimated cost of treatment
  • Clarifying the overall goal of the treatment plan

Understanding the diagnosis and care team’s plan of action helps patients and their families make better-informed care decisions, and make proper preparations.

Consider Clinical Trials

Patients should speak with their care provider about alternative therapies, such as potential clinical trials that they may be a candidate for.

Clinical trials are research studies that test new treatments or drugs that could be used against certain types of cancer, or other diseases. While clinical trials may not be the right fit for all patients, there may be novel treatments to consider implementing into a treatment plan. 

Be Proactive in Coordination and Communication

Throughout the care journey, cancer patients may be seeing multiple specialists while receiving various therapies and treatments. Tracking contact information and scheduling appointments, tests, and follow-ups in a timely manner will help to streamline care and produce the best outcomes for the patient. 

Cancer navigation programs, or cancer navigators, can assist in the coordination of care throughout a treatment plan. If these services are available to a patient, they can take the strain of this organization off of the shoulders of patients and their families, allowing them to focus on healing. 

It is important that cancer patients also have timely communication with their care team. Keeping the team informed of any changes in a patient’s condition, or addressing any concerns that arise, can ensure that care is as efficient and effective as possible.

Seek Support

Having a strong support system can help cancer patients manage the physical and emotional challenges of cancer treatment and encourage strength, resilience, and healing.

After diagnosis, here are some ways to rally and strengthen a patient’s support system:

  • Reach out to friends and family for emotional support and practical assistance.
  • Work with a therapist or counselor to address any emotional or mental health concerns. 
  • Connect with others, either through online forums or in-person support groups, who have gone through a similar cancer journey.

Above all, patients and their families should know that they are not alone in their fight. Resources and support are available at every stage of their treatment.

Take Care of Your Physical and Mental Health

It is normal to take time to process the emotions that come with the news of a cancer diagnosis. Learning ways to manage stress can help improve morale and overall health, leading to the chances of a successful outcome. 

Patients can support and strengthen their mental and physical health by:

  • Practicing relaxation and meditation techniques
  • Exercising
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Staying connected with friends and loved ones
  • Getting enough sleep

By taking care of their mental and physical health, cancer patients can better cope with the challenges of treatment and improve their quality of life.

Every person's cancer journey is unique. Patients can take on this challenge one day at a time with the support of friends, family, and their care team.

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