I have a CT scan this morning to check on LK (left kidney). I’ve been giving him pep talks all week, reminding him what a good little kidney he is and how proud I am of the progress he’s made getting rid of the cancer. :) I expect to get the results on Friday when I see my doctor prior to treatment and am believing it will be good news!
Whether we are ready to it admit it or not, it seems that most of us will either be diagnosed with cancer ourselves or have someone – or many someones – close to us who are diagnosed with cancer during our lifetime. In my opinion, it is not acceptable or wise to receive a cancer diagnosis as fact and blindly follow your doctor’s treatment plan – no questions asked. As a responsible patient, you have an obligation to yourself and your family to become as educated as possible about your disease and available treatment options.
Sometimes people are diagnosed during a very short period of time – things happen rapidly and a treatment plan is developed within days or weeks. My diagnosis took place over a three month period before we ever got to the point of discussing treatment, so I had plenty of time to read and learn about all the possibilities I was facing. During this process, I learned a few things that I think might be of help to someone just beginning this journey or someone helping a loved one through the maze of cancer diagnosis and treatment.
- You can never ask too many questions of your doctor and medical care team. If they have your best interest in mind, they will not mind the questions. If they are bothered by your questions, you should seriously consider finding another team to care for you. It’s as simple as that. I know a lot of people trust their doctors and would never want to question them, but asking the right questions could mean the difference between a treatment plan that saves your life and a treatment plan that prolongs your life for a while. There are numerous sites that provide you with lists of questions to ask. I think these lists are wonderful because, really – whose brain is functioning well enough after you hear the words, “you have cancer” to think of all the questions you should ask?? I know mine was not. One exceptional site is the Lance Armstrong LiveStrong site with tons of resources for new cancer patients.
- Do not be afraid to obtain a second opinion. If your doctor opposes this idea or thinks it is unnecessary, you should seriously consider finding another doctor. I’m not kidding. Your survival is serious business. If you are too nervous to mention it to your doctor, take someone with you who can speak for you. A good doctor who wants you give you the very best care will not get a bruised ego by this request – he/she will welcome the additional knowledge and input into the diagnosis.
- You should research and learn as much as you can about your form of cancer and the available treatment options. While my sisters did a crazy amount of research when I was diagnosed, they still did not learn more about my cancer than I did. No will will be a better advocate, a better researcher, or a better questioner than you. Once the shock starts to wear off, sit down at your computer and start searching, reading, and taking notes. Write down every question you have because you will soon forget it. I learned after talking to my doctor about an article I found that I had access through a simple Google search to some of the same medical articles he reads!
- You should never assume that your cancer is just like someone else’s. Martha Sue may have had non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, but hers could have been a completely different variety, stage, and location on her body than yours. No two cancer patients are exactly the same. Breast cancer for one patient may be different than breast cancer in another patient. Don’t assume that a one-size-fits all treatment plan will work best for you. It is important to have as much diagnostic testing done as possible so that you know the specific form of the disease that you have. If you have doubts or questions, ask about the possibility of more tests being run. One of the benefits of my lengthy, drawn-out diagnosis period was that significant testing was done on the biopsy specimens, including testing done at specialized labs in Boston.
In my opinion, you cannot have too much knowledge or too many resources at your disposal when faced with a cancer diagnosis. Knowledge is power, and at a time in your life when many people feel very helpless, that can be a good thing.
Have a beautiful Wednesday!