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What Should You Do After Being Diagnosed With Cancer?

Four tips to help you manage your life after a cancer diagnosis

An illustration shows an oncologist embracing a cancer patient after diagnosis.

Four tips to help you manage your life after a cancer diagnosis

It’s normal for anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer to experience a mix of emotions and want to know more about their condition. After the initial shock, it’s very important to take control of the situation, build support and learn what to expect. Your health depends on it.


Every person faces a new cancer diagnosis differently. Some people want to know every detail about their condition, every potential step in treatment, every possible option and side effect. Others want somebody to listen as they talk through their hopes and fears. Still others may need concrete assistance gathering resources and support.


The cancer journey is both a personal and shared experience. It’s important to know that you are not alone as you learn more about your cancer diagnosis and treatment. There is plenty of support available to help you cope and deal with the journey ahead. The following words of advice can help guide you in your cancer journey.

Build your support team

It’s okay to ask for help. Having a strong support system is important during your time of need. Navigating the health system can feel overwhelming with all the tests, doctor’s appointments and questions that follow a cancer diagnosis.


Family and friends and cancer support groups can be essential parts of your support team. They can provide both practical and emotional support. A family member or friend can go with you to appointments and help take notes and ask questions. They can help take care of you when you’re not feeling well. They can take care of errands. They can also just be there when you need them.

Get to know your care team

Members of your health care team can also provide different types of support.

Having a supportive health care team is very important. Get to know members of your team, especially those who are going to be coordinating your care.


Your cancer care team may include:


  • Oncologists, including radiation oncologists, surgeons and other cancer treatment experts
  • Oncology nurses and nurse navigators
  • Cancer diagnostic specialists
  • Patient support professionals


“Your cancer care team works collaboratively, sharing information and coordinating your care throughout your journey,” says Thomas Buchholz, MD, medical director of Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center and a radiation oncologist with Scripps Clinic. “No one practitioner, no matter how skilled they are can win the war against cancer by themselves. It takes a team approach.”

 

Cancer care also goes beyond medical treatments. Your patient support team may include social workers, mental health professionals, spiritual support, genetic counseling, integrative medicine specialists, registered dietitians, rehabilitation therapists and home health care.

Learn your treatment options

Asking questions is an important part of your cancer journey.


“Bring your questions to your appointment. You need to understand your treatment options in order to make informed decisions. There are many new treatment options for different cancers that have proven to be effective. Ask about the benefits and potential risks. Members of your care team can explain in detail,” Dr. Buchholz says.


Some key questions that newly diagnosed cancer patients should ask, include:


  • What type of cancer do I have? What stage is my cancer?
  • How was my cancer diagnosed?
  • What are my treatment goals (cure, control, relieve symptoms?) and options?
  • How will cancer treatment affect my quality of life


Patients should understand all aspects of treatment, including side effects, time away from work, transportation needs and financial costs. A case worker or financial counselor can help with financial issues.

Coordinate your care

Patient support services are crucial in cancer care.


At Scripps MD Anderson, cancer patients are matched with a nurse navigator from day one. The nurse navigators are trained to help you navigate each phase of care and to ensure patients receive care as quickly and efficiently as possible.


“A nurse navigator will hold you by the hand and walk you through the process. Their expertise will help get you to the right providers at the right time,” Dr. Buchholz says. “They will help you schedule appointments. They will assist you with supportive services and other needs. They're with you through the journey.”


A nurse navigator can help connect you with helpful resources so you can focus on your care. These resources include:


  • Finding reliable, licensed childcare for parents in cancer treatment who have small children
  • Finding transportation to and from daily chemotherapy for patients without family nearby
  • Helping with specialist referrals
  • Helping with education, nutritional advice and support
  • Searching and finding clinical trials


“The goal is always to help you through your cancer journey into survivorship,” Dr. Buchholz says.

Infographic: Four important steps you can take to manage your cancer journey

Tips for people who have been diagnosed with cancer.