Cancer Lessons

This year doctors will diagnose more than 1.6 million new cases of cancer. It remains the nation’s second biggest killer, but for most of those who are newly diagnosed, cancer will not be a death sentence. They will join the ranks of the 12 million or so Americans who live with the disease or who are now cancer-free. These survivors, their caregivers and advocates have valuable lessons to share on how to make treatment decisions, manage stress and balance family, work and the cost of care.

Picking Your Cancer Team

There are over 100 different types of cancer. It’s very important to find someone who specializes in yours. Be sure to pick a doctor who is part of a multidisciplinary team. Local hospitals are often well-equipped to treat common cancers, but for less common or harder to treat cancers seek out a comprehensive cancer and where the surgeons, radiation oncologists, social workers and pain and palliative care workers will work closely to coordinate your care.

Making Treatment Decisions

After they hear the words, “You have cancer”, most people take in only 10 percent of what they’re told. Record your doctor appointment or bringing a friend or relative along. Carefully evaluate your treatment options and the consequences each will have on your prognosis and quality of life. A man with prostate cancer, for example, may decide against surgery if he wants to become a father one day. Consider what’s most important to you.

Considering a Clinical Trial

There can be great benefits to participating in a clinical trial. People in clinical trials often get greater attention, greater follow-up care. Clinical trials look to develop new cancer treatments to increase the treatment options that are already available. Researchers, for example, might be testing whether breast cancer patients needing radiation would benefit from more radiation over a shorter period of time.

Clinical trials in general are designed to offer you at least the treatment you’d be offered anyway. They don’t use placebos in a clinical trial … and any research study that isn’t going well is stopped.

Managing the Financial Costs

Cancer treatment is expensive and that’s not just the co-pays. Then there are all the out-of-pocket costs for things like transportation, home care or child care. Ask friends who wish to help to donate money or gift cards for gas instead of a lasagna for dinner. While meals can be very helpful families often receive more food that they can eat. The cancer patients should appoint a “captain of kindnesses” to organize well-wishers.

American Cancer Society, CancerCare and other groups can steer patients to additional sources of financial assistance. Cancer centers also often maintain patient care funds.

Continuing to Work

Since most insurance is tied to employment, many people not only continue to work during their treatment, they often literally cannot afford not to. Others prefer to continue to work if only to avoid becoming a professional patient. There’s very much this piece of “Am I just going to be someone with cancer?”

The law does not require employees to disclose a cancer diagnosis and an employer cannot legally ask about it, but some people choose to tell their bosses anyway, particularly if treatment will impact their work schedule –for example, scheduling chemotherapy for Fridays so they can recover over the weekend.

The Family and Medical Leave Act allows workers in private companies with at least 50 employees to take 12 unpaid weeks of leave. (Public employees get 12 weeks, regardless of their employer’s size). Most people who continue to work benefit from having a script to help them respond to co-workers’ well-intentioned questions. This can be as simple as deflecting questions about your healthy by saying, “I’m doing well. I appreciate your concern and will keep you posted”.

Bringing Cancer Home

Family and friends want to help, so don’t be afraid to ask them. Assign a family member to open mail and take care of the hospital bills and insurance paperwork. It’s overwhelming. Delegate it.

But family shouldn’t be your sole source of emotional support. Cancer can take its toll on them as well. They’re watching what’s happening to you. They know when you feel awful and you look awful. It’s frightening for them to watch. Sometimes family members should just “shut up and listen”. You can give your opinions, but the patient is the one in charge.

Coping with Stress

Support groups – in-person or online – can be great outlets for patients and their family. So can talking to an oncology social worker or therapist. Health psychologists are not dealing with crazy people. They’re dealing with normal people in crazy situations. The health risks associated with cancer treatments are often themselves stressors. Survivors often worry that every little illness heralds a cancer recurrence. May Beth, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma 22 years ago, says she finds one thing each day to be grateful for. That’s not hard. When she was diagnosed, her doctors told her she wouldn’t have children, say says. Now she has two.

Article source: deltaskymag