A cancer diagnosis is an all-too-familiar reality these days. Approximately half of all men and one-third of all women in the United States will develop some form of cancer during their lifetimes. “Often coming without warning, a diagnosis of cancer is sure to bring feelings of denial, anxiety and fear,” says Alexander Wong, M.D., board-certified hematologist/oncologist on staff at Methodist Sugar Land Hospital. “It also may become necessary to make important decisions about treatment options in a short amount of time.”
Here are some suggestions to help you or a family member through this difficult process.
Ask detailed questions. Find out the name of the cancer and its stage, size and location. Where did it start, and has it spread to other areas? “Some cancers are slow-growing, while others are more aggressive,” Dr. Wong says. “Depending on which type it is, you may be facing different treatment options. Ask about the success rate of each option and possible side effects. Do not be misled by statistics, as each individual is unique and so is survival.”
Enlist a support system. Consider bringing someone you trust with you to appointments when the diagnosis and treatment options are explained. This advocate – someone who can understand the information and ask more questions – is valuable at an emotional time when it may be hard to comprehend everything coming at you.
Explore your options. If you’re best at making decisions when armed with lots of information, consider researching more on your own. The National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov, is a good starting point for learning about surgery options, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and integrative therapies. Your doctor can also supply you with patient education materials. If too much information overwhelms you, let your doctor know. He or she can recommend evidence-based treatment strategies appropriate for your situation.
Consult an oncologist. A cancer specialist or oncologist has information about the latest treatment options and also clinical trials that you may want to consider. Care provided by an oncologist in the local community can significantly reduce the hazard of traveling while going through treatments. Each treatment has its own set of side effects. Complementary therapies like acupuncture, acupressure and herbs are available to help improve side effects. Your oncologist can help you evaluate options and explain realistic expectations.
Maintain a positive attitude. “It is normal to go through denial, fear and even depression,” Dr. Wong says. “You have to forget about what is behind and focus on what is ahead.” Ask for help from your family, friends, spiritual advisors and health professionals.
For a referral to Dr. Wong or another oncologist in your area, please call 281-274-7500.