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A cancer diagnosis: What to do next?

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a shock, causing feelings such as numbness, confusion or fear.

Oncologists (cancer specialist doctors) will try their best to prepare a person for the moment they hear the diagnosis, but being frightened is a natural reaction.

After the initial shock, practical planning needs to begin for the physical and emotional challenges that lie ahead during treatment and beyond.

Although a cancer diagnosis is likely to feel overwhelming, resources are available to support you every step of the way.

After a cancer diagnosis: time to take control

People often enter a shock phase after a cancer diagnosis. This initial reaction is perfectly normal. Many things will be outside your control, but try to control the things you can.

Here are some important steps you can take to manage your life after a cancer diagnosis:

  • Find a partner. No one should go through a fight against cancer alone. For many people this will be a spouse, family member or close friend. Pick someone you can talk to openly about serious issues.
  • Get organised. Start a notebook or file to record medical appointments, doctors’ phone numbers and the information you collect along the way. Take it with you to each appointment, and keep notes on your test results and treatment options. Keep a list of questions to ask your doctor on your next visit.
  • Get informed. Take steps to learn more about your cancer diagnosis and treatment options, but do so at a pace that is comfortable for you. For some people, a lot of information is exactly what they need; others may not want to deal with too much straight away.
  • Consult only unbiased, trustworthy sources when you do your research. Look for groups dealing with your specific cancer or major charities, such as Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support.
  • Consider a second opinion. Cancer treatment is complicated, and different doctors are likely to have different philosophies and approaches. A second opinion can also help you feel more confident about your treatment plan.

After a cancer diagnosis: taking a “whole life” approach

A cancer diagnosis touches every area of your life, so your plans for managing after your diagnosis should do so as well.

Take an active role in medical and treatment decisions. Given the complexity of cancer treatment, you may feel you should take a back seat to your doctors, but patients and families can also be vital members of their own “healthcare team”.

Treatment for cancer is highly individual. Your cancer treatment plan will depend on many factors, including the type of cancer you have, its location and stage of development, your current state of health, and your goals for treatment and quality of life. Seeking a cure regardless of how much discomfort the treatment causes you, or pursuing comfort above all else, both of these are reasonable treatment goals.

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