Your mouth is dry, eyes wet and hands sweaty. Your doctor just informed you that you have colon cancer. There are few things that can tilt your world on its axis like a cancer diagnosis. Take a deep breath, especially if you have lost a loved one to cancer. Your cancer is not their cancer, nor is your outcome guaranteed to be the same. The scientific advancements, treatments and overall approach to dealing wtih colon cancer has vastly improved in the last decades.
You don't have to become an expert in the field of gastroenterology or oncology, but you should try to learn the basics about your cancer. Starting at square one, ask yourself how much you currently know about your colon and its function within your body. You can begin by reading the basics about colon cancer surgery and treatment options.
Once you understand the big picture, move on to specific treatment modalities including:
Ask Your Doctor Questions
Following the official diagnosis you will meet the doctor who will help you fight the cancer: the oncologist. This doctor is specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers. He or she will talk to you about the stage, grade and possible treatment options for your specific type of cancer. Start a list of questions for the oncologist and keep it somewhere highly visible. If you can't think of any questions consider these:
- What is the stage and grade of my cancer?
- What is the prognosis with this type of cancer?
- How long will my treatment take?
- Will I need anymore tests? When? What?
- Am I a candidate for any studies?
- What rate of success have you seen with this treatment and my cancer type?
- Will I need to take time off of work?
- What does my insurance cover?
Gather Your Social Support System
Even if you are a reclusive introvert, you may find yourself wishing for support during your first few months of treatment. If you set those support structures in place now they will be there for you when you need them. Your family, friends and coworkers may provide your personal support system, or you can choose to be anonymous and find support on the Internet. Many organizations offer free online support groups including:
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it's a great starting point to help you find the support you may need.
Embrace Your Healthcare Team
The medical treatment team is an ally in the fight against your colon cancer. These doctors, nurses and paraprofessionals are the guides on your roadmap to treatment. Never hesitate to ask one of these professionals a question about your health and well being.
Initiating the Difficult Conversations
When, where and how you address your new diagnosis with friends, coworkers and children is a very personal choice. The American Cancer Society provides some excellent tips defining ways to start a discussion with your children based on their developmental stage (and age). Although you do not technically have to disclose your illness with employers, it may pave the way if you need to take time off for treatments or recovery.
Preparing for the Worst, Hoping for the Best
Every cancer treatment has the potential for adverse or unwanted effects. Preparing yourself mentally and physically may help you from being blindsided. Depending on your scheduled treatment learn more about:
If you have young children or are a single parent, you may also need to consider implementing child care during your treatment. Allow yourself time to interview and select a caregiver that you are comfortable with, rather than waiting until the last minute and arbitrarily selecting someone.
Monitor Your Schedule
Consider investing in a smart phone if you are technologically savvy. Many smart phones offer calendars that can remind you of treatment appointments and have notepads for lists of doctor's names, your medications and questions. Some versions even support applications specifically for cancer patients including applications that track treatment, new trials and connect you to other survivors. If you're not on board with technology, it’s prudent to own a good calendar so that you can track appointments and treatment schedules.
American Cancer Society. (2006). American Cancer Society's Complete Guide to Colorectal Cancer. Clifton Fields, NE: American Cancer Society.
American Cancer Society. (n.d.). How Should Children be Told That a Parent Has Cancer? Accessed May 17, 2012.
Melchor-Beaupre, R. (n.d.). Psychological Aspects of Coping with Cancer. Accessed from Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida, PA on May 21, 2012.