Facing Cancer: Be Your Own Best Advocate

Finding out you have cancer can be scary, devastating and overwhelming. You didn’t ask for this disease, and it’s likely to make you feel out of control. As you get past the initial shock, however, you can take charge of how you act and react to your situation.

Remember that cancer treatments and long-term survival rates continue to improve. Know that the way you approach your disease will have a powerful impact on your mental, emotional and physical well-being.

Follow these guidelines to help you face the challenges of cancer as your own best advocate.

Arm Yourself with Information

Ask lots of questions about your disease and treatment options. Write down information from your doctors to help you remember details and suggestions you may have been too numb or distracted to fully comprehend during your appointment.

Don’t rush into decisions because you feel you have to get rid of the cancer immediately. Most cancers don’t grow quickly, and you need time to absorb information, weigh options and talk with the people who can help you see the big picture. If quick action is needed, your doctor will tell you.

Know that the way you approach your disease will have a powerful impact on your mental, emotional and physical well-being.

Bring a family member or trusted friend with you to appointments for support and information gathering. If you want to search online for additional facts, know your type and stage of cancer and go to reputable sites such as the American Cancer Society.

Trust and open communication are essential to a good patient-doctor relationship. See the American Cancer Society’s tips on Talking with Your DoctorOff Site Icon. If you feel that a lack of trust in your doctor is keeping you from getting good medical care, you may want to ask for a referral to another doctor with whom you can establish a better connection. Don’t hesitate to ask for a second opinion.

Know How to Reach Your Doctor at All Times

Ask your doctor which side effects or unusual problems you should report right away. Find out what numbers to call during and after office hours. Your medical team will always respect your privacy. Tell your doctors and nurses which of your family members and friends they can talk to about your medical condition. You may need to sign papers to give your permission.

Keep a Journal

Write down your feelings, fears and questions to help you acknowledge your emotions and work through them. As time goes on, you may gain additional perspective by looking back and seeing the progress you are making.

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Have a clear idea about what expenses will be covered so you can make financial plans for your treatment. Most hospitals have social workers or financial advisers who are happy to help you sort through expenses and payment options.

Try to Do “Normal” Activities

As much as possible, continue with some of your daily activities, such as laundry, grocery shopping and reading mail or emails. Performing these routine tasks will give you a sense of control and normalcy.

Pay Attention to Important Relationships

A lot of your energy will be spent on coping with having cancer and undergoing treatment. It’s vitally important to your overall well-being, however, to spend time with family members and friends. Do things that are fun, relax with them and gain strength from the love and support they offer.

Find Support Groups and Resources

Join a support group in your area or tap into national support groups and the resources they offer. Ask your hospital social worker to connect you with other families. On a more personal level, accept help from friends and family members who offer. Let them pick up groceries, help with laundry or housecleaning, pick up children from extracurricular activities or make you dinner. All of these help you conserve energy and help the person who is reaching out to you feel like they are contributing to your recovery.

Speak Up with People who Drain You

People often don’t know how to respond in a time of crisis and may say the worst possible thing in their effort to make you feel better. If their words hurt or disappoint you, try to remember that they were saying the words to make you feel better. If you focus on the good intentions, it will be easier to accept the underlying message of support.

Remember that family, friends and acquaintances will not know how you are feeling or what your needs are unless you tell them. You may need to tell someone, "I would just like you to sit quietly with me and keep me company" or "I need to spend some time alone right now." Don’t be afraid to express your emotional needs.

Other people may want to talk to you about their experiences with cancer. They may believe that they are being helpful, but instead may be making your situation feel even more overwhelming. It is important for you to avoid these discussions if they are not helping you. Ask for what you need and tell people what you don’t need.

Share Your Experiences with Others

Once you are feeling better and stronger, consider sharing what you have learned with other people. It might be through attending a support group, a Facebook post or a conversation. The knowledge and skills you have gained in coping with your illness may be of great help to people in similar circumstances.