Taking The Fear
Out Of Cancer

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Hearing that you have cancer is very frightening. Fear can lower your tolerance to pain, leave you feeling helpless and alone, and turn you inside out, feeling out-of-control. Don't let the fear of having cancer paralyze you, and shut you down.

Ottie and Can-Do have created a Top Ten list of survival tips and suggestions for you, derived from reading over 100 books written by cancer survivors, to help take back some control and to help take the fear out of hearing you have cancer.

These suggestions are not offered as a substitute for conventional, professional medical advice. If you have medical concerns, please seek the advice of a healthcare professional.

1. Don't Panic!
Panicking means your thought-process has already jumped to the worst possible conclusion -- "I'm gonna die." This may not be true. Cancer does not mean death. It is a word, not a sentence. This fatalistic thinking is not healthy for you and will only get in the way of rational and positive action. Making decisions while in a panicked state might do more harm than good.

Allow yourself to take the time you need to gather your thoughts and consider what you've been told. This could take a few days. You need to be able to make clear decisions about yourself, your healthcare team and your treatment. In order to make these decisions, you need to stay in control. This is more easily said than done, but you deserve this time. Give yourself permission to take it!

2. You're in Charge!
You are the most important person on your wellness team! Know this and act on it! Take charge of your treatment. Surround yourself with specialists, technicians, family, friends and support. These people should be working at your direction to get you well again.

If you are already feeling overwhelmed by the diagnosis and feel you cannot handle anything else -- think again! Leaving important life-decisions up to someone else is a BIG mistake. Allowing others to do this makes you dependent on them and you become a passive spectator. Taking charge will greatly enhance your chances of survival!

3. Make a Phone Call!
Call 1-800-4-CANCER. This is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) Cancer Information Service (CIS). Ask them to send you accurate, up-to-date information on your particular type and stage of cancer. Ask for information on state-of-the-art treatment options, comprehensive cancer centers and clinical trials. Your call is confidential. This information is free!

4. Ask Questions!
You are the consumer. You have the right to ask your doctor questions, questions and more questions. Ask away until you are satisfied. He is required by law to explain them to you in an understandable manner. Make sure you understand the answers. Have your doctor explain it again if you don't. Do not pretend to understand something because you feel dumb or intimidated asking again. Now is not the time to "assume" anything!

Take the time to write down your questions before going to visit your doctor. This will save time in the long run. Take someone along with you for moral support. They can help ask questions and write down answers. It is helpful to take along a tape recorder. Most doctors have no objection to this. If they do, you should be looking for another doctor!

5. Get a Second Opinion!
It's a good idea to get a second opinion from a board-certified oncologist before starting your treatment. Getting a second opinion does not mean you are in denial about your diagnosis. It ensures that your doctor stands a better chance of treating your cancer right the first time and offers you the opportunity to meet someone more in tune with your needs.

If you're concerned about upsetting your doctor, you might want to ask yourself this -- what is more important here, hurting my doctor's feelings or increasing my chances of survival?

Take all your medical records with you, or have them sent for you. DON'T ask your doctor to recommend someone for a second opinion. It's natural for your doctor to recommend a friend. You may not get an accurate second opinion if you do this because doctors find it difficult to challenge the opinions of associates who are their friends. Find someone in a different group, possibly in a separate hospital or even in another town. You deserve to have the benefit of more than one opinion. It is your right to be fully informed!

6. The Right Doctor for You!
There is a strong connection between the probability of recovery and the confidence you have in your healthcare team! You are seeking a balance of interpersonal skills and medical expertise when choosing this team.

First, you want a doctor who is an expert in your type of cancer! This is very important for building your confidence in your doctor. Get to know about your doctor and be sure that he/she is an expert in their field.

Second, you want a doctor you are comfortable with. You want someone who cares about your emotional well-being and who takes an interest in you as a person. You want a doctor who welcomes your active participation, not someone who resents you for making your own decisions or for asking lots of questions. You are looking for someone who sees you as a person first, not just a patient.

It may take a while to find the right doctor for you, but you are worth it! You and your doctor are going to be together for a long, long time. Build a rapport and make it a mutually respective relationship right from the start! You're looking for someone to "partner" with. You especially want a doctor who gives you hope!

7. Treatment Options!
Make sure you know about ALL the treatment options available to you. If you are getting consistent information about your treatment options (let's say, from your diagnosing doctor, your second opinion doctor and the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service) making this decision will be easy and straightforward.

If you are getting different opinions about what treatment to follow, you need to keep looking until you have information that is consistent. You should not be confused about which treatment protocol to follow!

When you've done your homework and feel you have the best protocol for your treatment, decide and move forward with it! Making this decision is life affirming. Believe in it!

8. Informed Consent!

DO NOT SIGN A BLANK CONSENT FORM! Read it! Read it! Read it!

You should fully understand the exact procedure that is to be performed. The doctor -- not the nurse, the associate or the assistant, but the doctor -- is obligated to explain to you the purpose of the procedure, the risks involved, the risks of not having the procedure and any other alternatives -- in words you can understand!

You have the right to take the time to read this form completely and ask questions. As many times as you need to in order to fully understand what you are consenting to. You have the right to cross out statements you do not agree to. Remember that consent means voluntary agreement. You should not feel pressured into signing something you did not take the time to read or understand because someone is standing at the foot of your bed waiting for your signature. Let them wait!

Exercise your right to be in control of your situation and not be helpless. These are important decisions only you can make for yourself. You don't want to wake up from that procedure to find out it wasn’t what you "expected." You don't want to hear yourself saying, "I should have asked, but.... " Maintain your sense of free choice and self-respect, read and understand the informed consent form!

9. Reframing Cancer!
You have cancer, but that doesn't mean you are cancer. You are still you! You can view your cancer as a threat or a challenge. It's entirely up to you! Do you have cancer -- or does the cancer have you? The way you think of yourself in relation to your cancer greatly determines how you experience your illness -- or your wellness.

You can help yourself maintain a positive outlook by "reframing" your cancer. Say to yourself, "I have cancer. I am not cancer." This is reframing.
Reframing cancer means you perceive your problems as possibilities! A crisis turns into a challenge! Obstacles become opportunities! Stumbling blocks are seen as stepping-stones!

Use cancer as a turning point in your life! Maybe cancer is a message for you to change. Take stock of your life. Are you happy? Are you fulfilled? If given the chance, what would you do differently from this moment on? Use cancer as a wake-up call to make changes in areas of your life that are not satisfying to you. Now's your chance!

10. Managing Stress!
If you are alive, you're stressed. There's no way around it. Having a diagnosis of cancer adds tremendous anxiety to an already stressed life.

How you manage your stress is very important for your recovery. Stress taxes an immune system that is already compromised. It zaps your energy, leaving you irritable, angry and depressed. You cannot afford this. It will drain you!

Doing your homework and being prepared helps to ease anxiety. Finding ways to relax are important, too. Meditation is an outstanding way to relax your mind and your body and replenish yourself. Taking time out for you is a great stress reducer!

Think positively and repeat affirmations throughout each day. Eliminate energy-zappers -- toxic people, unhealthy relationships. Negativity depresses your immune system! Listen to your body. Good nutritional habits, exercise (reduces anxiety and increases energy) and proper rest (allows your body to heal) are excellent ways to help alleviate stress.

Allow people to help. People want to help, just tell them how they can do it. Being with friends, sharing concerns, laughing - knowing you're not alone - is good for you and builds self-confidence. Find a hobby, take time to play.

There are as many different ways to relax and de-stress, as there are people. Find ways that work best for you. Keeping stress at a minimum is a very important goal on your road to wellness!


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