Finding out that you have cancer is a very emotional and scary experience. After the diagnosis, you want information about your cancer, cancer team, treatment options, life ahead and much more.
Thankfully it’s rare for cancer to need emergency treatment, so you have a little time to process information and feelings. It’s important to understand that cancer treatment can be a long journey. You’ll need to prepare yourself and put a plan together for what’s ahead – it can help you feel more in control of the situation.
Where do you start? What do you need to learn? Each person has a different need for information at different times. Some questions may require answers immediately. Other questions will come up later.
Recommendations for Everyone
- Bring a family member or friend to your appointment. They may hear and remember things you don’t or help you ask questions.
- Bring a voice recorder and take notes to review later. The friend might take notes for you so you can listen.
- Write down your questions and bring the list to your appointment each time. No one remembers everything, especially under stress.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the doctor to repeat or explain information. It’s complicated and takes time to process.
Questions, Questions and More Questions
Here is a list of common and very important questions to ask:
- What kind of cancer do I have? What happens to other people with the same cancer?
- What are all the possible treatments for it and what are their advantages and disadvantages? Side effects?
- What do you recommend?
- How many times have you done this? Where’s the best place to go for treatment?
- If you recommend a clinical trial, tell me what that means.
- What does this treatment cost and does insurance cover it?
- What is my next step? Is there anything I can do to improve my chances of tolerating treatment well?
- When will you know if it is working and how? What if this doesn’t work? What’s my life expectancy? The most likely scenario? What options do I have if I don’t want to continue cancer treatment? How do I maintain the best quality of life for me and my family?
- When am I going to see you again? Who is coordinating my care? What if I have a question or problem? Who is available to help me cope with this situation? Do I need advance directives? Financial or legal assistance?
- Where can I get second opinion?
Limit Your Research to Credible Sources
There’s a world of information out there about cancer. Be careful not to look at too many sources – or sources that have questionable information— as it can be confusing and cause unnecessary fear.
It’s a good idea to limit your sources, at least in the beginning, to one or two reliable ones, starting with the National Cancer Institute. The Centers for Disease Control also has a list of good sources of information on survivorship, many from the Institute of Medicine.
Never hesitate to ask your doctor or cancer team any questions you have – large or small.
A Word of Encouragement
There is life after cancer diagnosis—and during treatment. You won’t take the journey alone. A team of health professionals will be with you every step of the way—oncologists, nurses and coordinators, nutritionists, and many more. As cancer nurses and survivors share, many people don’t experience the terrible stories we hear about. You have gone through other hard things, and you will find the strength and courage to get through this.
The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.