Lisa Lefebvre, the founder of Mend Together, first thought “I have cancer, now what?” when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38. Lisa’s own fifteen-year cancer journey gave her first-hand experience of the overwhelming feeling of a cancer diagnosis.
According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 40% of all men and women will receive a cancer diagnosis at some point during their lifetime. Here are some ideas on the first steps to take after receiving the news that you have cancer.
What should you do after a cancer diagnosis?
Once a doctor says cancer, most of us hear nothing after that word. “The first time I was diagnosed I had an unexplained overwhelming impulse to go shopping for a frivolous item. I ended up at Barney’s buying some wine glasses. Something I didn’t need or want. I was in a daze and trying to pretend everything was normal,” says Lefebvre.
Fifty-six-year-old prostate cancer patient Louis Giottonini recalls a numb hazy feeling, followed by the immediate desire to put together an action plan for “how do I get rid of this quickly?” According to Integrative Care Physician Thomas Sult, MD, a methodical approach is needed. His first words of advice are to slow down and remember this is a marathon and not a sprint. “You need to sit with the words and the diagnosis, breathe, and prepare yourself for a potentially long treatment process,” says Dr. Sult.
I have cancer: questions to ask
The first of the basic steps is to learn as much as you can about your diagnosis and make a list of questions to ask your oncologist. Some questions to consider:
- Can you explain the characteristics of my diagnosis? Is there a tumor? Where is it? How large is it? How slowly or quickly is it growing? Has it spread to other areas of the body? What is the data on the survival rates of my type of cancer? Is my cancer curable or just treatable?
- What are my treatment options? What is the expected impact of the treatments on my survival rate? Find out the benefits offered by each treatment such as quality of life and impact on survivorship. You can also ask if the goal is to cure my cancer or extend my life.
- What side effects can I expect? You can expect side effects with any medication. Ask your doctor what are typical and atypical side effects.
- What is the likelihood of recurrence? Most cancers carry some risk of metastasization.
Tips to Consider After a Cancer Diagnosis
- Be Wary of Information Sources Although Dr. Google can help provide information, it is important to be aware of the plethora of misinformation that exists so be cautious about believing everything you read. Visit unbiased, trustworthy websites such as the American Cancer Society. Cancer is a very individual disease and only your care team can help you know and advise you on your specific circumstances.
- Explore all Treatment Options Cancer treatments are continually evolving and the approach to treatments vary considerably. Dr. Sult recommends that you, “Resist the temptation to be fatalistic. Cancer treatment is not your grandparents’ treatment anymore. There are many good options for most cancers.”
- Don’t Go At It Alone When Louis’s wife, Mary Ann, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 68 she was besieged with anxiety and knew it was too much to take in on her own. “I was having a personal crisis and my ability to retain any meaningful information was practically nil”, she said. Mary Ann recommends bringing along a trusted, reliable partner, family member or friend to appointments to take notes.
- Always Get a Second Opinion In order to feel confident about your treatment plan, Mend Together’s founder, Lisa strongly suggests getting a second opinion preferably from a teaching/research hospital to be sure you have access to the latest research and treatment protocols. Many institutions offer remote consultations.
Create an Account
Create a free page on Mend Together to get emotional, physical, and financial support during your cancer journey
Now what? Coping with a cancer diagnosis
Just as each case of cancer is individual, so is the way that a person copes with the diagnosis. A few coping strategies include:
Take some time
Give yourself time to process the news you just received. You may want to share your diagnosis with just a few people at first until you orient yourself to your new reality.
Consider your needs
Once you share your news with a broader social circle, including extended family, friends, and colleagues, expect to get many offers of help.
Start a page
You may want to consider starting a profile page on Mend Together to keep everyone updated at the same time on your cancer journey. It can be overwhelming to have to respond to each individual phone call, text and email. Mend Together offers a Community Journal that enables information to be shared in a private setting and gives friends and family a place to share encouraging words of support.
Remain involved with work and leisure activities as much as you can so you have a life outside of cancer.
Cancer is expensive. The average cancer patient is hit with $16,400 in unexpected out-of-pocket expenses. Friends and family are going to ask how they can help. Mend Together also offers a way for friends and family to help alleviate the financial stress of cancer.
It is normal to feel shy about accepting or asking for help during this time. Please resist this temptation. In this video Lisa explains that friends and family want to help, and how she learned that by accepting their support she was not only helping herself but for them as well. Lisa also learned that there is a scientific explanation behind hesitancy about asking for help. In this video, she explains why we are more comfortable with giving than receiving help.
Take care of your mental health as well as your physical health. Keeping up social connections at this time is the number one thing you can do to improve your treatment outcomes. You can shop or even register for healing gifts that can help minimize symptoms or provide cheer on Mend Together.
Thoughts from our founder
Lisa’s own experience with cancer-related surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, radiation protocols, and hormone suppression therapy taught her many things but most notably, “people who’ve been there, can help get you there.” She learned that friends, family, colleagues, etc. want to help you cope but knowing how to help can be challenging. Lisa’s mission was to change that. She has been there, so she started Mend Together as a means for patients and their loved ones to get advice and support on making sense of one’s cancer journey.
Getting extra cancer support
If you or someone you know is part of the 40% of people who have spoken the words, “I have cancer, now what?” know this: According to the American Cancer Society and other health groups, people who receive a cancer diagnosis are living longer. This fact is attributed to improvements in routine screenings, which often catch cancer before symptoms occur, and advancements in treatment protocols.
Don’t lose hope, choose optimism and support. Learn more about how our free resources like our Community Journal, Volunteer Calendar, and Gift & Donation Registry make it easy to give and receive support when it’s needed most.
Marci Clow is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and writer of evidence-based food and nutrition communications.
Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.