"I'm sorry, it's cancer." Nobody wants to hear those words, and most think they never will. But cancer diagnoses are on the rise, and according to CancerCure.org, 1 in 3 will get cancer in their lifetime. The good news is that more of us are surviving our initial diagnosis and treatment, and going on to live full and vibrant lives.
The moments between diagnosis and the beginning of treatment are often the hardest for the person battling cancer. It's is so much easier to deal with cancer when you are doing something, anything, to help combat the disease. Here are some tips, steps you can take before treatment starts to help get yourself ready for this challenge. I am not a doctor, so please don't confuse anything I suggest for medical advice. However, I did spend the last ten months battling my own cancer, and through that time, I kept notes on advice I would pass on to other people who were newly diagnosed.
1. Go easy on yourself.
This is not the end of the world. Keep yourself busy, and try to reign in your imagination when it starts heading towards worst case scenarios. In the weeks between diagnosis and the start of treatment, I tortured myself imagining everything that could go wrong, but reality of my treatment was nothing like what I imagined. The extra stress was unnecessary.
2. Share your burden and get support.
You may not be ready to broadcast this news to the world at large, but tell somebody. This is a heavy burden; don't try to carry it alone. If you'd rather not talk to friends and family about your diagnosis, there are support services around Seattle that can be of help to you. Both Cancer Lifeline and Gilda's Club Seattle have people with whom you can discuss your diagnosis, how you're handling it, and how you are going to break the news to your family, friends, and workplace.
3. Get organized.
Update your phone’s speed dial, include the number for your oncologists nurse and your medical center’s 24-hour help line.
Clean your house. Better yet, enlist someone else to clean your house.
Get a three-ring binder to contain your medical records, or order a Guidebook from the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Pre-menopausal women with breast cancer can receive a free newly diagnosed kit from the Young Survival Coalition that includes a binder for organizing medical information.
Create lists of contacts: the first people to call to update on how your surgery went, a separate list of the first people to call if you need help (babysitting, ride to treatment, etc.).
Make a list of your computer passwords, organize important papers, and make sure someone knows how to pay the rent, power, water, and other critical bills in case you are still hospitalized when those payments come due.
4. Get Educated.
Learn about standard treatment plans for your specific diagnosis, and any trials that are being developed. A word of caution here: be careful how you search, and check the legitimacy of the site providing information. The internet favors sensationalism, so extreme cases rise to the top. You are more likely to encounter worst case scenarios first. Don't torture yourself.
5. Get a physical, and get your teeth fixed (Check with your doctor on this).
A physical will give your doctor a baseline, and alert her to any other issues that might need to be tracked, or might be complicated by your treatment. Chemotherapy can also be very hard on your teeth and gums. Get your teeth in the best shape possible, and tell your dentist that you will be starting chemotherapy; she may have some additional suggestions to help your mouth stay healthy through treatment.
6. List your favorite ways to relax. Now make that list longer.
Learning to relax was one of the best coping tools through this entire ordeal. Making a list may seem silly at first, but there may be times when your favorite stress reducer is not possible. Make a long list so you don't have to think hard when things like massage, bath, and wine have been forbidden by your doctor. Brainstorm now so you don’t have to when you really need that take-me-away moment.
7. Make it easy for others to help you.
I found that often people want to help, but they just don't know what to say or do. Make it easy on them. Make a wish list of comforting items, your favorite brand and flavor of tea, those fuzzy chenille socks you love, favorite comfort foods, favorite books and magazines. Create a list of things that need to be done around the house and post it in the kitchen. Dishes, laundry, scrubbing the toilet, vacuuming, are all chores with which you will likely need help. Loved ones may be afraid to offer to help for fear of offending you, and giving them the opportunity to help, may actually help them feel better as well.
Hang in there. There will be some rough days, but they are not all rough, there will be great days as well. You can have cancer and a good life.