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Cancer: What You Need to Know (cont.)

Four More Essential Things You Should Know (and Follow)

You're in charge.
  • Create an equal partnership between you and your oncologist (your cancer specialist). Don't give up or just go along with medical decisions made by someone else. You are allied against a common foe (your disease) with hopes of achieving 1 of 3 goals: a cure, quality time, or decreased symptoms. Ask your family and friends for support but do not proceed with treatment just because they think it is the "right" thing to do.
  • Keep in mind that you (or your advocate) need to be appropriately assertive in treatment decisions. Speak up. Be involved. It's your life.
  • Don't ask the doctor what he or she would do in similar circumstances. It's tempting to go along with the doctor who says, "Well, if you were my mother . . ." or "I'd advise my golfing buddy . . ." They are not you.
Ask for a second opinion.
  • Don't be shy. Recognize the importance of a second opinion. No single institution and no one doctor can have complete information about all types of cancers. As professionals, they should not be offended if you want to seek a second opinion. This is a common practice in medicine today.
  • If a major cancer center or university has a particular expertise in your cancer, it certainly makes good sense to seek out a second opinion there. Almost never will the local physician be offended, and if he or she is, that is even more reason to seek another opinion. Support groups in the city where the medical center is located or bona fide groups on the Internet can provide names of local experts. Call on one with your doctor's support.
Your life goes on.
  • Don't let the rest of your life unravel while you deal with cancer. Understand that you have only so much energy, and this energy needs to be divided into dealing with the cancer but also paying the bills and being attentive to the normal mundane chores of daily living. Life when you are healthy is a full-time job. Be realistic. Cut back. Slow down and smell the roses.
  • Nobody can go it alone, and now is the time to reach out and seek help from friends and neighbors. Acknowledge the importance of a support system. Lots of studies show that friends, families, colleagues, and even pets can enhance the well-being of anyone who is ill—and perhaps increase survival, although the latter point is somewhat controversial. A friend can be an anchor during some stormy times. Don't ignore the resources of your religious group, if you have one.
Do not look back with anger or regret.
  • On Monday morning, everyone is an expert quarterback. This also applies to picking winning stocks. Energies need to be focused on today and not on past events. To ruminate over diagnostic tests or treatments that were not effective simply takes energy away from the task at hand. One person told me that after the diagnosis of cancer, everything, yes everything, became crystal clear. Relationships, priorities, the to-do list. What was important became obvious: family and friends, but not all the other "stuff" that distracts us.
  • Seize the day. Savor each opportunity. After all, today is really all that any of us has.

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