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After a cancer diagnosis

A cancer diagnosis could cause emotional strife, but the patient will need to also plan on how to live with and fight cancer

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Take a deep breath and know that it’s perfectly fine to feel a little frazzled. However, you need to remember to control what you can, which is your life after a cancer diagnosis. Steps to take start with:

  • Finding a partner for you to go through this fight against cancer with. This person can be a spouse, family member or your best friend, anyone you can speak to openly about your innermost fears and serious issues.
  • Get a binder and this will be where you have all the important medical information such as scans, results, appointments, doctor’s phone numbers and also notes. Take this binder to you to every medical appointment.
  • Get informed and learn as much as you can about your cancer diagnosis. Remember to use only trustworthy sources that your doctor or oncologist recommends.

Getting informed

Basically, cancer can start anywhere in your body and it occurs when cells grow uncontrollably and crowd out the healthy cells which makes it difficult for your body to work optimally. Cancer can spread to other parts of the body and this is called metastasis.

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Questions you should ask your doctor or oncologist includes:

  •  Why do I have cancer?
  •  Is there a chance that this isn’t cancer?
  •  Where did the cancer start?
  •  Could you write down the kind of cancer I might have?
  •  What’s next?

Tips:
After running a barrage of tests that may be intrusive, the cancer cells will be graded and this helps the doctor predict how fast the cancer is likely to grow and spread.

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“Why me?”

If you find yourself asking, “Why me? I eat a balanced diet, exercise, don’t drink or smoke!”, don’t worry, you’re not alone and definitely not being punished for something you did in the past. Focus on your treatment and take excellent care of both your body and mind.

The next thing to ask your doctor is what stage your cancer is at because it describes how much it’s grown, where it started and also whether it has spread to other parts of your body.

Treatments
There are a few options and it depends on the stage, type, and location of the cancer, along with your age, overall health and how you feel about the treatment and possible side effects.

Treatment can range from surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted drugs to immunotherapy and some treatment plans may require a combination.

Quote: “If you find yourself asking, “Why me? I eat a balanced diet, exercise, don’t drink or smoke!”, don’t worry, you’re not alone and definitely not being punished for something you did in the past.”

Possible side effects

Surgery is usually done depending on the area of the tumour and it is utilised to remove the tumour along with a margin of healthy tissue around it. Side effects of surgery are as per the usual with local pain and risk of infection. Speak to your doctor or wound care specialist to learn how to take care of the surgery site to prevent infection and also reduce scarring.

Radiation uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells and may be used with surgery or chemotherapy to treat some forms of cancer. It can also be used to treat symptoms such as pain and swelling especially in cases where the cancer has spread. Side effects include feeling fatigue and skin changes at the site of radiation.

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to fight cancer and is given intravenously (via a needle into a vein), injections or pills. Side effects include feeling nauseous, very tired and also, hair loss. After treatment, these problems will usually subside.

If you’re feeling a little lost, here’s a list of questions for you to ask your doctor:

  • Will I need another doctor?
  •  Will I be able to exercise during treatments?
  •  Which treatment will work best for me?
  •  How will the treatment affect my fertility?
  •  What will the surgery/chemotherapy/radiation therapy be like and what are the side effects?
  •  What should I do to get myself ready for treatment?
  •  Will I need to leave my job?
  •  Is there anything else I can do to boost the treatment’s effectiveness?
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Quote: “Taking care of yourself after a cancer diagnosis is your most important job but this is often not the case. Your work and roles as a parent, spouse or caregiver will need to contend with the rule where your treatment comes first. Be your own number one caregiver!”

Communication is key

Having a network of support from your friends and family can really make a difference and potentially save your life. Some things to consider include:

  • Don’t hide your diagnosis to ‘protect’ your children, family members or friends and other loved ones. This usually makes the situation worse.
  • Give people specific tasks when help is offered such as driving you to an appointment or perhaps babysitting your child while you’re at the hospital.
  • Designate a person to share updates with your friends and family on your progress.
  • Expect a few awkward conversations with some people

You are number one

Taking care of yourself after a cancer diagnosis is your most important job but this is often not the case. Your work and roles as a parent, spouse or caregiver will need to contend with the rule where your treatment comes first. Be your own number one caregiver!

Remember that it isn’t a sign of weakness to ask for help. If you feel overwhelmed with negative feelings, do speak to a mental health professional. Going for therapy can help to manage the stress that may stem from a cancer diagnosis along with providing a safe place for you to express any fear and also hope for the future.

References: American Cancer Society; WebMD.

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