Now what? Where do I go from here?
After a diagnosis, you might be scared, or numb, or angry, or all of the above and more. And you’re probably overwhelmed.
We can help. These next chapters are a destination map. They can help guide you toward the best decisions along your path from diagnosis through treatment, so that you arrive where you want to be.
American and Stand Up To Cancer are with you in this journey. As you get started, know these four things:
1: Cancer is not your fault
Don’t blame yourself. Don’t let anybody else blame you. “When people get cancer, it’s generally not their fault,” says researcher Lee Helman, MD,Professor, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, and Director, Cancer Research Program, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. “The reasons people get cancer are incredibly complicated, a complex interaction between genetics, environment and exposure.”
2: Cancer is not the way it used to be
Today, cancer is often detected earlier, when treatments can be more effective. According to the National Institutes of Health, the average 5-year survival rate for all cancers combined is now 68%, up from 50% in the 1970s (1).
3: Everybody is different
Statistics that report average survival times or average cure rates aren’t rules—they are estimates that lump everyone together. Don’t take them too personally.
4: There is something you can do
Karen Taphorn’s cancer journey started with a mole in the small of her back. When traditional chemotherapy no longer worked for her melanoma, and her cancer recurred with more than 24 tumors in her lungs, Karen turned to a clinical trial offering new immunotherapy using “check point inhibitors.” Karen said she would have crawled to Memorial Sloan Kettering to participate in that trial. Now, more than X years later Karen remains healthy with no evidence of disease. Each day, week and year that Karen survives without cancer, she is helping us understand just how long and durable a patient’s response to immunotherapy can be.
Not everybody is so resilient, and that is ok. But anyone can take control of their journey.
Talking to the oncologist
When you first talk to your cancer doctor, it might be hard to take it all in. “Obviously if you’re told you have cancer, it’s overwhelming,” says Helman.
It will be difficult to remember everything so write as much as you can down. Write down what the doctor tells you, and ask him or her to write down the name and the “stage” of cancer (meaning how big it is and how much it has spread).
For future visits, if you are comfortable, take a friend or relative with you to the appointment, as a second set of ears. Before you go, write down your questions, or even send them beforehand if possible. And don’t be afraid to ask, says Helman: “I always tell my patients and families: The only stupid or bad question is the one you don’t ask me.”
The journey through diagnosis and treatment is a journey of knowledge. Decide now how you’re going to collect and organize your information, whether in a journal, a notebook, or in digital form.
Before you begin treatment Helman recommends that you ask your doctor about your options.
Sometimes, there’s really just one logical plan of action. But often, you have choices, and each pathway forward has its pluses and minuses.
Sometimes you need to move ahead quickly, but often you may have a few weeks or even a month to think over or research your options.
If you are a woman of child bearing age when you are diagnosed – talk to your doctor about the potential impact of treatment on your fertility and steps that might be considered to preserve childbearing options before you begin treatment.
Your oncologist can be a great source of practical advice about what to expect from the course of treatment, and how it might affect your quality of life.
A diagnosis can be intense, even devastating—and overwhelming. Cancer support programs and free counseling can help you get through this phase. See the resources page for details.
Scientists have learned that cancer comes in hundreds of different subtypes. It’s important to find experts in your particular diagnosis. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a second opinion, says Helman, and that’s especially true if your cancer is unusual or has several options for treatment.
As part of American’s medical plans, including Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO), you can access Advance Medical’s Expert Opinion service, which gathers your medical records and brings together a committee of experts who review your case to provide another perspective. For covered team members and their family members, there’s no charge. Visit on the web or call 855-212-1074