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understanding your cancer

Learning more about what to expect may help you prepare.

Being better prepared can help you get through.

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Ease Your Journey

A cancer diagnosis may come with concerns and challenges that can affect daily life. Here you’ll find information about common questions people ask, as well as some helpful websites for organizations that offer a range of support services for people living with cancer.

What emotions can I expect after diagnosis?

Cancer can disrupt life and change its course, not only for the person who’s fighting it, but also for everyone who walks the journey with that person. Because no two people are alike, you may feel and react differently to the diagnosis than other people you know who have dealt with cancer. Your feelings may range from sadness, to fear, to anger, and everything in between. That’s not unusual, and there are several ways to cope with your emotions.

Please be sure to talk with your treatment team about your concerns and feelings. Some ways to cope include:

  • Reaching out to friends and family
  • Joining a support group
  • Writing in a journal or finding other creative outlets to express your feelings
  • Learning about your specific cancer and treatment options

What questions should I ask the doctor?

Knowing where to start is usually the hardest part of having a conversation about cancer—especially when there are so many questions. Here are some ideas to help create an organized discussion list to share with the doctor. These are just a few examples. Don’t be afraid to ask any question that comes to mind. Your care team is there to help find the answers anytime. When it’s time to talk to the doctor, consider bringing a friend or family member along to take notes so you can focus on the conversation.

About Cancer

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • Where is the cancer located?
  • What stage is my cancer?
  • Has it spread to my lymph nodes or other areas of my body?

About Treatment

  • What are my treatment choices?
  • Which treatment do you suggest for me and why?
  • What is the goal of my treatment?
  • What are the benefits of treatment?
  • What are the side effects and how can I manage them?
  • How do I prepare for treatment?
  • How often and how long will I need to be on treatment?
  • How will I feel during treatment?
  • Who will be coordinating my overall treatment and follow-up care?
  • What is a clinical trial?
  • Am I eligible for a clinical trial?

About Lifestyle

  • What impact will my diagnosis and treatment have on my daily activities?
  • Are there exercises I can do to keep up my strength?
  • Will I need to change how I eat?
  • Are there foods or drinks I should be avoiding?
  • What about other food or liquid supplements?
  • What other things can I do to be as healthy as possible through my cancer treatment?

About Support

  • Are there support services available to me?
  • Is there a support group available that will allow me to speak with other patients?
  • Are there support services available to my family and friends?
  • Where can I find more information about my cancer and its treatment?

Who are the members of the care team?

There are several people with different roles involved in cancer treatment, including an oncologist and a nurse, maybe a radiologist, a navigator, or other professionals. Your specific care team could include some or all of the people listed.

  • Chemotherapy nurse: A nursing professional responsible for administering chemotherapy to cancer patients
  • Dietician: A registered dietician who focuses on helping patients receive proper food and nutrition
  • Financial counselor: An office staff member who coordinates registration, determines financial and/or insurance status, and helps find out what benefits may be available to help pay for your treatment
  • Home healthcare provider: An individual who may help with things such as giving medications in your home, teaching you how to care for yourself, and recommending if you need further medical attention
  • Navigator: A medical professional with clinical expertise who works with the care team to coordinate cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment, and supportive care throughout the cancer journey. A navigator also may be a nonmedical person who expedites scheduling or access to resources and performs other administrative functions
  • Nurse practitioner: A nursing professional with a master’s or doctoral degree. A licensed nurse practitioner works closely with a doctor to manage illness and disease
  • Oncologist: A physician who is specially trained to diagnose and treat cancer with chemotherapy and other medications
  • Oncology nurse: A healthcare professional who serves in many roles depending on his or her experience, advanced education, and specialized certification. The oncology nurse's role ranges from giving chemotherapy to coordinating care between the clinic and home, as well as conducting research
  • Oncology social worker: A social worker who is an expert in coordinating and providing nonmedical care for cancer patients
  • Pathologist: A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and classifying diseases in the lab by testing and looking at cells under a microscope. The pathologist determines whether a tumor is cancer, and, if cancer, the exact cell type and grade
  • Patient educator: A nursing professional who collaborates with the clinical staff to develop treatment strategies and provide those facing a cancer diagnosis with the information they need to make decisions about their treatment. Educators also may monitor each person throughout the cancer journey
  • Pulmonologist: A physician who specializes in the study, diagnosis, and treatment of disease of the lungs
  • Radiation oncologist: A doctor who is trained in using radiation to treat cancer
  • Radiation technician: A technician who operates radiation equipment
  • Radiation therapy nurse: A nursing professional who provides nursing care and helps you learn about treatment and how to manage the side effects of radiation therapy
  • Surgical oncologist: A doctor who specializes in treating cancer with surgery

How can I develop a healthier lifestyle during treatment?

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Sometimes you can make adjustments at home to help you move toward a healthier lifestyle as you navigate life with cancer. Some areas to think about making adjustments include:

  • Diet
  • Physical Activity
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Tobacco use

Before any changes are made, it’s important to talk to your doctor so you can find the best options.

Where can I find help?

There are many organizations, such as those listed below, that provide helpful information for people living with cancer. On their websites you may find information about cancer, support group meetings, social sites for community and connection, and more.


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