When the Doctor Says Cancer

October 31, 2011
Download MP3 (4.66 MB/5:05)

In this podcast, we talk about the first steps to take when you are diagnosed with cancer.


You’re listening to a podcast from Cancer.Net. This cancer information website is produced by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, known as ASCO, the world’s leading professional organization for doctors that care for people with cancer.

Today we’ll talk about the first steps to take when you are diagnosed with cancer.                                                

It’s normal to feel stunned when you learn that you have cancer. Cancer survivors often recall that this news left them unable to remember much of what was said afterward.

In this podcast, we’ll talk about some practical tips to cope with this life-changing situation – including seeking information and coping strategies.  

The first step is to begin learning about the specific type of cancer and treatment options. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to act as a partner with your doctor in health care decisions.

The amount of information you find can be overwhelming and confusing, but there are steps you can take to manage it. Talk with your doctor about how to find educational information about this type of cancer. If you come across unfamiliar medical language, ask a member of your health care team to help explain it. And, some patients want a lot of information; others less. Be sure to tell the doctor or nurse your personal preference, so they can respect your wishes.

It’s a good idea to find someone to help, such as a trusted family member or friend. During visits to the doctor, this person can serve as your “ears and memory” for the information provided during the appointment. Also, try to make a list of questions you’d like answer prior to the appointment, and then take notes or record answers on your phone or a tape recorder, so you can review it after the visit.

Don’t be afraid to ask any questions about your diagnosis, treatment, and chance of recovery. Here are some suggestions on first questions to ask, but always feel free to ask additional questions:

Question number one: What is the exact type and name of the cancer I have?

Number two: What tests were done and what did they show? Will I need additional tests?

Three: What stage is the cancer, and what does that mean?

Number four: What are my treatment options? Does that include clinical trials (which are research studies)?

Five: Who will be part of my health care team, and what does each member do? Who will be coordinating my overall care?

Number six: What are the possible side effects of each treatment option, both in the short term and the long term?

And, question number seven: What are the next steps?

You may also want to ask about who can help you with financial concerns and what other support services are available.

Also, you may want to seek a second opinion before treatment begins. Getting a second opinion is a standard practice in medical care. Look for a doctor who specializes in this specific type of cancer. To find a doctor, ask your primary care doctor, oncologist, or people with a similar cancer. Or, contact your insurance company, nearby hospital, or cancer center.

During your doctor appointments and discussions, you will be gathering a lot of notes, test results, and papers. Create a filing system to organize and keep track of this paperwork. This may be a paper-based system, information saved on a computer, and/or tools on your mobile phone – it’s fine, as long as it’s a system you’re comfortable with and allows you to access information when you need it. It will help to have such information on hand when you talk to doctors or your insurance company.

Now, let’s talk about some ways to get support while you absorb the news of your diagnosis. A diagnosis of cancer is difficult. Understanding your emotions—and those of people close to you—can help you manage your diagnosis, treatment, and process of healing.

Research shows that it helps when people share their feelings and fears with others. Being open can strengthen you emotionally, and perhaps even physically. Talk to loved ones, clergy, or to members of your health care team. You may want to ask your doctor for a referral to a support group or therapist, or for some written materials on coping.

In addition, there are other ways you may find helpful to express and cope with strong feelings. These include taking time for yourself by writing in a journal, creating artwork, reading, or quiet reflection or prayer.

However, if severe anxious or depressed feelings grip you for more than a few weeks, be sure to talk with your doctor.

Illness changes our relationship to the world. It’s normal to have days when you cannot make yourself feel hopeful, especially if you feel physically sick or tired. Take care of yourself during those difficult times and realize that much has been learned and applied in recent years to help ease the process of cancer treatment.

For more information on this topic, visit www.cancer.net. Thank you for listening to this Cancer.Net podcast.