Living with Cancer
If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you have probably experienced feelings of fear, loneliness, frustration, anger, or hopelessness. These feelings are normal and understandable. But you can greatly enhance the quality of your life by finding the courage to cope and by learning to share your emotions and appreciate the joys yet to come.
Is cancer always fatal?
Cancer does not have to be a death sentence. One of every two people who are treated for the disease will be cured and go on to lead long, productive lives. Others will live for many years before dying.
If your cancer has been diagnosed as terminal (life-ending) you may live months or even years longer than expected. But even if your outlook is promising, you may undergo treatment and face difficult challenges for an extended period of time. It's important to be sure you are dealing with the disease – and your needs – in the best way possible for you.
Who should I rely on to make decisions about my cancer treatment?
The primary source of answers and guidance concerning your medical treatment is your physician, typically an oncologist (a doctor who specializes in treating cancer). The oncologist forms a team with you and your own physician, nurse specialists, therapists and other medical professionals in overseeing your cancer care program. Family and friends may also offer helpful recommendations. You may seek advice from books and other resources.
But ultimately the decision-making responsibility belongs to you.
You, the patient, are the best manager of your life with cancer. Cancer is unpredictable. You have to be in charge of it – and never let it be in charge of you.
How can I take control?
Fears about the unknown are often greater than the reality. So the first step in managing your cancer is to obtain as much knowledge as possible about the type of cancer you have and the treatment you will receive. You are entitled to complete information about your disease, your prognosis and any treatment or procedures that are planned, including their cost.The entire staff at the Regional Cancer Therapy Center is committed to providing you with this important ainformation.
Some useful pointers for managing your own care:
- Ask medical questions of your doctor, nurse and surgeon;
- Make a list of your questions and write down or tape-record the answers;
Take along a relative or friend who can help you remember what is said during this often confusing and difficult time;
If you don’t understand something, ask for a clearer explanation;
Communicate your concerns as specifically and honestly as you can and demand the same in return.
Can I rely on information found in books?
Many books and brochures, such as those published by agencies like the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, are an excellent source of knowledge and information. Most are written in everyday language that is easy to understand. Ask your hospital for a copy of “A Patient’s Bill of Rights.” Share what you read with your physician. Explore how the information applies to your situation. When you are armed with accurate knowledge about your disease, you can take a more active role in your care and recovery. You will have a better understanding of the options and rights available to you. And you will be in a position to ensure that your medical team is working together to provide you with the best possible care.
What if I am too sick, depressed or angry to take charge?
Some days it may be very difficult to feel in charge of your cancer, especially when you are first faced with the reality of illness or when you are tired, sick or uncomfortable from treatment. If you feel constantly overwhelmed by the reality of your disease, or if you are stuck in the “denial” stage and can’t seem to move forward, you may benefit from the help of a support system. Your primary support system may be your family and friends. Talk with them about your concerns. Reach out for reassurance. But because those closest to you may have trouble coping with problems associated with cancer, and because they will need time off to pursue their own activities, you may want to seek support from other sources, too.
Where can I find support outside my family?
Many people find it helpful to talk with others who have had cancer. CanSurmount is an American Cancer Society program that offers one-to-one support for patients and their families, from people who have personally experienced cancer. The Ostomy Association provides a similar program as well as group sessions for ostomy patients.
The Oncology Social Worker at Frederick Memorial Hospital and a cancer patient regularly co-lead a patient support group at the Regional Cancer Therapy Center. Horizons, I Can Cope and Reach to Recovery are other organizations that provide trained volunteers who have survived cancer to share their experiences, wisdom and understanding.
Family members may have a hard time adjusting to the role changes and new responsibilities that often occur when cancer strikes. Just like you, they may experience feelings of fear, worry and even anger. Counseling and emotional support for such situations are widely available. For example, specially trained nurses and social workers associated with the Regional Cancer Therapy Center’s radiation department and Frederick Memorial Hospital offer both individual and family counseling. Therapy is also available through psychologists, psychiatrists, or licensed clinical social workers who specialize in counseling cancer patients and their families. Your faith and your clergy may also be a source of comfort and strength.
We've put together a list of Resources and Support Services available here in Frederick County. Take a look and see what looks like it might be helpful to you, then give us a call. We're here to help.