Dr. Janet Maker is an inspiring speaker who presented twice during the Breast Cancer awareness month programme at SI Downey in Camino Real Region. She is the author of “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Breast Cancer”, the story of her own journey and all the things she learned, designed to inform and empower others to take charge of their care.
What to do if You are Diagnosed with Breast Cancer
by Janet Maker, Ph.D.
“Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women. There will be more than 2 million new cases diagnosed worldwide in 2018. Of those, there will be an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer in the U.S., along with 63,960 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer. Most of us know very little about breast cancer, so if we do receive a diagnosis, we have to scramble for the information we need to make the best medical decisions.
Learn about your cancer
I recommend starting by reading about the type of breast cancer you have, and also by asking questions of other patients and your doctors. Most of the cancer organizations have websites with information that newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients should know. For example, if you go to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) website, you can click on Breast Cancer and read a huge amount of information about every aspect of breast cancer. You can download pamphlets about many different aspects of breast cancer as PDF files or as ebooks. You can also get information as well as emotional support by connecting with other patients, both in-person in support groups such as those at the Cancer Support Community, and online at websites such as breastcancer.org. I recommend learning about surgery, reconstructive surgery if you are considering it, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy. While you are educating yourself, you can be writing down the questions you want to ask each of your cancer specialists. The questions will need to be somewhat different for the surgeon, the plastic surgeon, the medical oncologist, and the radiation oncologist, but they will always center around the main three:
- What are all the treatment options available? Which one do you recommend, and why? This is where your research comes in handy. If there are options your doctor did not mention, you can bring them up.
- What would you expect my outcome to be for each option? (If you have questions about outcomes that the doctor has not addressed, bring them up). What can I do to improve the chances of a good outcome, in terms of lifestyle or other changes? What would you do if you were in my situation?
- What are the side effects and other short-term and long-term risks for each option? (Doctors can be very reticent in this area, possibly because they don’t want to frighten patients, so it’s a good idea to bring a list of risks and make sure your doctor has covered them all.) What can I do to minimize side effects?
You can get personalized advice and download a list of specific questions from My Breast Cancer Coach. If you have a smartphone, you can also download the My Cancer Coach App, available on iPhone® or Android®, which includes a list of questions you will want to ask your doctors.
Evaluate your doctors
While you are getting information from your doctors, I recommend that you also evaluate how they treat you. Are they taking the time to give you complete answers? Are they respectful? Is it easy to communicate with them? It can be important to get a second or third opinion, or even more. The decisions you make now can mean life or death, so take the time you need to choose a doctor who makes you feel safe.
You should also check your hospital and doctors for safety and quality. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, right after heart disease and cancer. You can check hospital safety by clicking on HospitalSafetyScore.org. You can check your doctor’s license and whether there are any disciplinary actions thorough docinfo.org, which is run by the Federation of State Medical Boards. I also like to check other patients’ experience with my doctors by using online reviews such as Yelp.
Not everybody feels equipped to do the research they need on their own, especially if they feel sick. If you think you need help, you can hire a patient advocate. Different advocates specialize in different things, such as dealing with health insurance issues, resolving legal disputes, or helping you make medical decisions. To find an advocate, you can ask your doctor or your cancer center for a referral, or you can search online through sites like The AdvoConnection Directory.
Another specialty that can help you is integrative oncology. Integrative oncologists are trained in both conventional oncology and integrative and holistic medicine. They “integrate” conventional and alternative methods. They believe there are two parts to cancer care. The first part is the same as what conventional oncologists do: some combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormones. But integrative oncologists believe there is a second part, and that is altering your “terrain” to make you less receptive to cancer. They typically give blood tests to measure the factors that are conducive to cancer, and whatever is less than ideal, they correct with a combination of diet, supplements, sometimes prescription drugs, exercise, stress reduction, and avoidance of environmental carcinogens. This can help make your treatment more successful; for example, they can help you heal faster from surgery and reduce the damage from chemotherapy and radiation. They can also help you stay in remission by keeping any residual cancer cells dormant.
In addition to making medical decisions, you might also need help with other issues, such as financial planning to cover the cost of treatment, planning for absence from work, for child care while you are recovering, etc. Reach out for the help you need”.