When you first receive a cancer diagnosis, you likely feel overwhelmed by the number of appointments you suddenly need to schedule and show up at, the questions you have with no certain answers, what your treatment course might be like and the general feeling of loss of control over your life, to name a few. In addition, things often feel as if they are spiraling out of control at unstoppable speed. You, on the other hand, feel like you are moving in slow motion, unable to keep up with life around you.
I remember my primary physician telling me to prepare myself. “Things generally get rolling really fast,” she said. “Biopsies, surgeries and treatments often happen very quickly.”
On the one hand, she was right. Things did get rolling quickly. The avalanche of appointments began immediately. During the first weeks alone, I had ten doctor appointments. I know this because dear hubby keeps track of such things and documented each one. There were even days when I had more than one appointment. I felt like I was being examined, analyzed and questioned over and over. I explained about my “heart attack” to each new face I saw, every time feeling a bit more foolish about my wrong self-diagnosis.
Next, the process of gathering and deciphering mountains of information began. The amount of information one is bombarded with after a cancer diagnosis feels overwhelming as well. You feel pressured, or at least I did, to suddenly become knowledgeable about biopsies, pathology reports, surgical procedure options, genetic testing and various treatment options often accompanied by even more data and prognostic predictions.
You are expected to think clearly and make life-changing decisions at a time when you are perhaps at your most vulnerable and are anything but clear headed.
Since I required genetic testing results to come in before final decisions about my treatment could be made, my diagnostic stage was intentionally slowed down for about three weeks. After the genetic test results came in, I had to wait another couple weeks before my surgery could be scheduled.
At first this seemed like a long time to just sit around and wait, but I came to realize this waiting period was a good thing. When feeling most overwhelmed, and I certainly was, that’s perhaps the best time to step back, take a breath and allow things to slow down. Waiting for test results forced me to do just that. It gave me time to mentally “catch up.” I needed time to process, evaluate and sort out new information as it came in.
Perhaps there is a little too much emphasis on fast-track, quick decision making during times of medical crises. While it is perfectly normal to want to “get on with it” or “cut the cancer out” as soon as possible, it is also in most cases, perfectly alright to take a little time to think things through. Generally speaking, there is a window of time during which your cancer will not change that much, if at all.
You don’t have to decide everything immediately, in fact, you probably shouldn’t.
It’s important to take time to process each stage of your experience. It is after all, your body and your cancer experience.
SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER AFTER A DIAGNOSIS
1. Take time to carefully think through treatment decisions.
2. Get second opinions if you choose and if your insurance allows for it.
3. Always bring paper and pen to appointments so you can write stuff down.
4. Have someone accompany you to appointments, if you choose to.
5. Make a list of questions before each appointment and remember to take it along!
6. Advocate for yourself by voicing your thoughts and opinions – YOU know your body best!
7. Always get things repeated or explained to your satisfaction.
8. Be sure all your questions are answered, especially the embarrassing and hard to ask ones.
9. Do your own research or have someone you trust do it for you. Don’t depend entirely on the “experts.”
10. Follow your instincts when appropriate and stand up for yourself.
11. Ask for printed copies of reports discussed so you can look them over at home.
12. Demand respectfully to be treated as a whole person. You are not just your breasts or your ovaries (or whatever body part is being scrutinized).
13. Find out what all of your options are before deciding upon one.
14. Before making a major decision, sleep on it.
If you do these things, you will probably make better decisions, feel more in control and have a better outcome. And that’s the beginning of healing.
How do you prepare for doctor appointments?