What after a cancer diagnosis?
“Besides cancer treatment, what really matters is their attitude towards their treatment. We have noticed that a positive attitude helps in better treatment outcomes.” Says Dr Ashay Karpe, Medical oncologist and haematologist at Sunrise oncology centre.
He adds, “Cancer treatment is not only about surgery or chemotherapy. What goes a long way is the psyche of the patient. Depression is ubiquitous in people who have been diagnosed with cancer, and therefore not isolating them, having their family and friend’s support is paramount to helping a person with cancer to cope.”
While a positive attitude goes a long way, there are some elements such as; a sound support system, understanding your diagnosis and maintaining a healthy lifestyle that can help you better deal with a cancer diagnosis:
1. Get facts about your cancer diagnosis
Once diagnosed, you should try to get as much basic and useful information about your cancer diagnosis as possible.
Dr Ashay Karpe, says, “When anyone is diagnosed with cancer, a person must understand what the nature of their illness is, what stage the cancer is in, what is the intent of their treatment – curative or palliative, what is the treatment schedule going to be like, what side effects could the treatments have, what are the emergencies that will require you to come to the hospital, what the treatment schedule is going to be like, what is the prognosis, what diet should you follow and what kind of exercises can you do. Most importantly, one must remember to avoid browsing the internet to learn about their conditions, as there is a lot of information out there, a layperson can misinterpret that.
Another factor is that in some cases, a lot of friends and relatives keep calling and reliving the challenging moments again, which can worsen depression or a feeling of doom.”
Write down any questions and concerns you might have so you can ask your doctor. Some pertinent questions you should ask your doctor are:
· What kind of cancer do I have?
· Where is the cancer?
· Has it spread?
· Can my cancer be treated, to what extent?
· What is the chance that cancer can be treated successfully?
· What other tests or procedures do I need?
· What are my treatment options?
· How will the treatment benefit me?
· What can I expect during treatment?
· What are the side effects of the treatment?
· When should I call the doctor?
· What can I do to prevent my cancer from recurring?
· How likely is my cancer likely to be hereditary?
A handy tip by Dr Ashay Karpe is to jot down your questions in a diary or notebook, so you don’t forget to ask the doctor.
You should also consider recording what your doctor tells you, writing it down, or having someone accompany you to help you remember what you hear.
Remember that you have options in terms of how much you want to learn about your cancer – some people like to have all the information they possibly can about their cancer and be involved in the decision making process. Others prefer to allow their doctors to make decisions about their treatment.
Decide what you’d prefer, and let your doctor know about your choice.
2. Find a support system and keep lines of communication open.
Dr Ashay Karpe says, “We advise people with cancer to spend quality time with friends and family about things other than your diagnosis and how things could be bad. Instead, surround yourself with positivity and good conversations.”
With a cancer diagnosis, it can be challenging to cope, and this is when you should have a support system. You could try to connect with your family, friends or even find a support group of people to help you through this tough time. Try to maintain honest, two-way communication with your loved ones, doctors and others after your cancer diagnosis. One does tend to experience a sense of isolation if people try to protect you from bad news or try to put up a strong front.
If you express your emotions with other people, especially those going through the same situation, you’re likely to gain strength from each other.
3. Anticipate possible physical changes
After your cancer diagnosis and before you begin treatment – is the best time to plan for changes. Prepare yourself in advance so you’ll be better able to cope later.
You should also ask your doctor about changes you should anticipate – like hair loss, or the need for breast prosthesis or other aids you might need to help you feel and look the way you’d like. This can go a long way in making you feel more comfortable, but in some cases, a prosthesis may help improve your quality of life.
Also, consider the following and make arrangements for:
· How the treatment will impact your daily activities
· Whether you can expect to continue your routine.
· How much time you’ll have to spend in the hospital or have frequent medical appointments.
· If your treatment will require a leave of absence from your regular duties
4. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Choose a healthy diet consisting of a variety of foods, including green vegetables and fruits. Get adequate rest to help you manage the fatigue and stress of cancer and its associated treatment.
Contrary to popular belief, exercise should also be a part of your daily life. Because exercise and participating in enjoyable activities can help make you feel better. Recent studies suggest that people who maintain some physical activity during treatment cope better and may live longer. 
Also read: Nutrition and cancer: Diet tips for people with cancer
5. Accept help (friends, family, support groups)
It may be difficult at first, but accepting help from your friends, family, or a support group could take the burden off your primary caregiver and make you feel better. Often, friends and family can help you run errands, help you to and from appointments, cook meals, and even do some household chores.
While it might be challenging to accept help, it helps give those who care about you a sense of contributing at a difficult time.
You should also encourage your family to accept help if they need it. A cancer diagnosis affects your entire family – it can increase stress – especially for your primary caregivers. Taking help from friends and family also helps prevent primary caregiver burnout.
6. Focus on self-preservation
Staying happy, occupied, and content can keep you feeling upbeat and may even help you tolerate treatment cycles better. Determine what makes you happy and what’s essential in your life and find time for necessary activities.
Share your thoughts and feelings with your family and friends because communication can reduce anxiety and fear associated with cancer.
7. Try to maintain your normal lifestyle
With multiple doctor’s appointments, treatment cycles, and cancer stress, it is essential to keep your normal lifestyle as far as possible. Of course, you should be open to modifying your lifestyle as necessary.
It’s easy to overlook the simplicity of taking things one step at a time like this.
8. Consider how the diagnosis will affect your finances.
Your diagnosis and associated treatment could add a significant burden on your finances. It may require time away from work and even (in some instances) extended periods of hospitalisation. You’ll also have to consider the costs of medication, medical devices, in-home care, travelling for treatment, etc.
This is why; you need to think about your financial future.
Here are some questions you should think about:
· How much time will I have to take out of work?
· Will my friends and family need to take time away from work to be with me?
· How much will my insurance pay for these treatments?
· What portion of the treatment and medication will my insurance cover?
· What will my out-of-pocket costs be?
· How does my diagnosis affect my life insurance?
9. Fight stigmas
A cancer diagnosis comes with some stigmas. For instance, some may worry if your cancer is contagious, while your co-workers might worry if it’ll allow you to do your job efficiently. The questions and fears will be endless, and you’ll have to decide how you want to deal with others’ behaviours towards you.
By and large, people will take their cues from you. So just make sure you remind friends that even though a cancer diagnosis is a scary part of your life, it shouldn’t make them feel uncomfortable to be around you.
Also read: Bust the stigmas against cervical cancer
10. Develop a coping mechanism – relaxation strategies, keep a journal, set aside some time for self-preservation)
Just as cancer treatments are unique to a person, so is the coping strategy. You could try:
· Meditation, or other relaxation techniques.
· Talking and sharing your feelings with your family, friends, counsellor or your support group.
· Organize your thoughts by using a journal.
· When faced with a difficult decision, list the pros and cons of each choice.
· Set aside time to be alone.
· Remain involved in leisure activities as much as you can.
The same things that brought you comfort and happiness before your cancer diagnosis can help you cope now, but don’t be resistant to modifying and trying new things to make you feel better.
You may also like to read:
- Top 10 myths about cancer, busted
- All your questions about cervical cancer: Answered
- Treatments for lung cancer – what to expect
- Can diabetes make you more prone to cancer?
 Cancer facts & figures 2017. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/research/cancer-facts-statistics/all-cancer-facts-figures/cancer-facts-figures-2017.html. Accessed June 15, 2017.
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 Taking time: Support for people with cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/takingtime. Accessed Aug. 22, 2017.
 Moynihan TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Aug. 22, 2017.
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 Ballard-Barbash R, et al. Physical activity, biomarkers and disease outcomes in cancer survivors: A systematic review. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2012;104:815.