What you need to know

Cancer diagnosis


Hearing the word “cancer” can be a traumatic experience for anyone sitting in a doctor’s office reviewing test results. Shock, anger and/or denial may even set in upon receiving a cancer diagnosis.

Roughly 14 million people were diagnosed with cancer in 2016, and each faced the days following their news in different ways. How men and women approach the weeks and months following a cancer diagnosis is up to them, but getting an idea of what to expect can help them as they confront their disease.

Expect changes

Cancer brings change that may involve modifications to routine, increased doctor visits, treatment appointments, and changes to physical and mental health. It all may seem scary, but approaching the changes that will come with open eyes can lessen the shock. Some changes, including increased visits from family and friends, may be appreciated, while others, such as fatigue or nausea resulting from treatments, may be unwelcome. However, knowing changes are in store can make it easier to figure out a plan of action.

Understand your diagnosis

Schedule a time to sit down with an oncologist and bring a friend or relative along. Have an honest conversation about the type and stage of the cancer and all possible treatment options. Your companion can listen intently and take notes as you absorb the information. Consider seeking a second opinion so that you can make the most informed care decisions, advises The Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Locate a support network

Navigating cancer is much easier by having someone with you along for the ride. Dave Visel, author of “Living With Cancer,” says no one should fight cancer alone. Find someone with whom you can openly speak about difficult issues.

Get organized

Develop a way to coordinate appointments, phone numbers and other information. It can be as simple as a notebook or an ongoing digital note on a mobile phone or tablet. Bring the information to each appointment and add to it as necessary.

Find a doctor you trust

Seek an oncologist who listens to your concerns and questions, explains everything thoroughly in plain language, has the credentials for your type of cancer, and understands you. Your relationship with a doctor is an extremely important partnership.

Choose a treatment

Patients are their own best treatment advocates. Honestly discuss just what you are willing to go through in terms of treatment. It’s not something that has to begin immediately, offers the American Cancer Society. You have plenty of time to think through your options so you can make the best possible choices.

Eligible patients can opt for a three- to four-week course of radiation, called hypo-fractionated (short-course)radiation, which has been found to be as effective as the traditional six-week course, with the same or milder side effects.

There are also treatments available that decrease the likelihood of losing your hair. Stage 1 and 2 breast cancer patients can receive the scalp cooling treatment, also known as the “cold cap,” which helps prevent hair loss before, during and even after cancer treatments. PinnacleHealth Cancer Institute is the first in central Pennsylvania to offer scalp cooling at its Mechanicsburg and Harrisburg locations.

Do not feel pressured to engage in a particular type of treatment. Treatment should be designed around what’s best for you.  A cancer diagnosis can be shocking. But knowing what comes next can take some of the fear out of such a diagnosis.