A common symptom of a new cancer diagnosis is pure and utter bewilderment. The American healthcare system can be a confusing maze involving dozens of options and decisions. Helping someone understand what comes next is an important part of my job as an oncologist and is necessary to assure a patient’s overall wellbeing.
Here are five actions to consider taking after receiving a cancer diagnosis.
- Get a second opinion. Before starting any cancer treatment, get at least one additional physician or team of physicians to review your case and give an opinion on both the diagnosis and possible treatment options. In fact, you may be required to get a second opinion by your insurance company. Don’t worry about offending your doctor. Getting a second opinion is a very common practice.
- Look for a clinical trial. Tens of thousands of people benefit each year from volunteering to participate in a clinical trial. Clinical trials can provide you with access to treatments not otherwise available, including new drugs and therapies for many types of cancer. Winship Cancer Institute is proud to offer patients access to hundreds of cancer clinical trials.
- Ask about supportive care. Improving quality of life during cancer treatment is more important than ever. Check with your healthcare provider about speaking with a supportive care specialist at the beginning of your course of treatment. It can make a big difference in getting relief from symptoms caused by a serious illness and its treatment.
- Gather your support system. Family and friends can be incredibly helpful following your diagnosis and during treatment. You’ll want to bring someone with you to your appointments to help refresh your memory afterward. Be sure to write down questions ahead of time for your doctor and don’t worry about asking the doctor to slow down or repeat information.
- Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Following a diagnosis, it’s natural to go on-line and read everything about a particular type of cancer. Be careful. Some sites are misleading and overwhelming. Be sure to stick to reputable websites. The National Cancer Institute provides good information and I also refer patients to the American Cancer Society’s website as well.
A cancer journey is more like a marathon than a sprint. Pace yourself and be prepared for some bumps in the road. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. Your doctors, nurses, social workers and therapists are there to help you along the way.
About Dr. Curran:
Walter J. Curran, Jr., MD was appointed Executive Director of Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in 2009. He joined Emory in January 2008, as the Lawrence W. Davis Professor and Chairman of Emory’s Department of Radiation Oncology. He also serves as Group Chairman and Principal Investigator of the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG), a National Cancer Institute-funded cooperative group, a position he has held since 1997. Curran has been named a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and Chair in Cancer Research as well as a Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholar.
Dr. Curran has been a principal investigator on over thirty National Cancer Institute-supported grants and is considered an international expert in the management of patients with locally advanced lung cancer and malignant brain tumors. He has led several landmark clinical and translational trials in both areas and is responsible for defining a universally adopted staging system for patients with malignant glioma and for leading the randomized trial which defined the best therapeutic approach to patients with locally advanced lung cancer. He serves as the Founding Secretary/Treasurer of the Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups and is a Board Member of the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education (Georgia CORE). Dr. Curran is the only radiation oncologist to have ever served as Director of a National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center.
Dr. Curran is a Fellow in the American College of Radiology and has been awarded honorary memberships in the European Society of Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology and the Canadian Association of Radiation Oncology. According to the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research, Dr. Curran ranked among the top ten principal investigators in terms of National Cancer Institute grant awards in 2013, and was first among investigators in Georgia, and first among cancer center directors.