Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Advice for the newly diagnosed

Yesterday I got a message from a friend about a friend of a friend of a friend who was newly diagnosed with breast cancer, that unfortunately seems like it might be stage IV.

Both my friend and my friend's friend had been urging her to go to Dana Farber in Boston immediately for more doctors instead of staying where she is for treatment. They also admitted, while they knew a fair amount about cancer - because they have been there - they did not understand hormone receptors and other issues particular to breast cancer. My response was give her my contact information and I would be happy to help her understand her diagnosis, as much as I can, and where she can go to get more information and support.

Later I started thinking (that dangerous proposition again) about what would be my advice for the newly diagnosed.
  1. Find information to help you understand your diagnosis, knowledge is power. Look for information online, in books (yes the old fashioned printed things), and from medical professionals and medical associations. Ask your doctor questions about your diagnosis and ask your doctor for resources for more information to help you understand your not-so-fun ailment.
    There can be too much information to absorb at once. But I think if you start with your disease, the stage its at, and treatment options - big picture only - you can get a better idea of what you are facing. I mean do not get wrapped up in different chemotherapy options at this point. I think if you can get an idea of what you are facing in terms your disease and not get bogged down into the details, you can get a better grasp on your options.
    Later, after you have had a chance to absorb your diagnosis and its implications you can then focus on the aspects of the different treatment options.
  2. Find support to help you keep your sanity. You can find support in many places. I suggest asking your doctor's office to start but also ask any friends or family who have been faced with a similar diagnosis or are in the medical profession. They may be able to provide support but also may be able to help you find more information. Support is many things. It can be a support group - whether virtual or in person. It can be a network of friends who provide childcare, meals, and company. It can be someone to hold your hand while going through treatment or at the doctor's getting news.
  3. Focus on your sanity. When faced with a not-so-great diagnosis, you can easily go down the emotional roller coaster to hell in a hand basket and back again, over and over. It is okay to say, 'I'm not going to make a decision right now, I need to think about it'. When faced with treatment options, a good answer can be a question - how soon do I need to decide?. 
  4. Stand your ground. Often well-intentioned friends and family members tell you what they think you should do - because their hair dresser's dog walker's cousin's next door neighbor had a similar disease twenty years ago and this is what happened to them. Smile and tell them thank you and walk away. Others will tell you which doctor to use, or why you should go to Germany for this new treatment, or other not so helpful information. Finally, there are those who will offer condolences as if they were at your funeral 'well, you have lived a good life' or 'it must be your time'. What are they talking about? You aren't dead.
    Do not let these people near you, walk away from them. They are not helping you. They do not understand your predicament and listening to them will not help you. They will send you down that emotional roller coaster again. Focus on finding new friends who are supportive. 
  5. There is no such thing as a new 'normal' so forget about finding it. Those people who tell us about the so called new normal have no idea what they are talking about. All it does is stress us patients out as we try to find it. However you can still be who you are after diagnosis. You may find you are stronger than you thought you were. You will find out who your true friends really are.
I am not a doctor or a medical professional. I am only a professional patient who has been wandering the halls of medical disasters for decades. This is my advice. You may find that your advice to the newly diagnosed is different. 

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