You've just been diagnosed: now what?


'Cancer.' Hearing your doctor utter the word can see you experience a heart-stopping moment, coupled with shock, disbelief and terror. These normal reactions can send you into a complete tailspin, as you begin exploring your options.

Unfortunately panic and hysteria are not going to get you anywhere other than making you feel even more out of control than you already feel right now. What you actually need to do is to stop. Take a deep breath. Then another. And another. Because the only way to tackle the journey that lies before you – and to try to regain some semblance of control - is to take this one small step at a time.

One of the first things you need to understand as a newly diagnosed cancer patient is that there is no need to jump into any decisions, explains Professor Carol Ann Benn, a surgeon with a special interest in breast cancer.

"Remember that cancer is not the flu. It didn't arrive yesterday and will not be gone tomorrow. The average doubling time of breast cancer cells, for example, is 40 days, which is why there is no such thing as an emergency mastectomy. So, once you've received a cancer diagnosis, there's absolutely no harm in taking a few days to explore your treatment options and to go for a second opinion. It always amazes me that patients are too scared to do this and yet it's a vital part of ensuring you're in the best possible hands. Tell your doctor you are going for another opinion and when you do so, don't tell the second (or third) doctor about what has been discussed otherwise it's not a true second opinion".

Prof. Benn suggests you always take someone along with you whenever you consult with your doctors to be your ears and to write down all the answers to your questions. "When faced with potentially worrying news, you take in less than 25% of information given, so don't be afraid to ask for re-explanations whenever you're feeling lost. It's your body and your life so never stop asking questions about the procedures suggested, the number of times the doctor has done this procedure and the complication rates in that unit. Speak to other patients who have been treated by the doctor you choose and never make any life changing decisions until all the information is processed."

It's a team effort

Never forget that you are only as good as your medical team - so keep building it. A team can approach a problem from many different angles and ensure that there is always a solution, which is why the multidisciplinary unit is the gold standard in cancer treatment and management today.

According to Prof. Benn, cancer treatment should never be a stage by stage, one-size-fits-all. "While there are certain fundamental treatment principles that should be strictly adhered to - such as who should receive chemotherapy, who should receive radiation therapy and different surgical options available - treatment always needs to be individually tailored, which is why listening to you and understanding your physical and psychological make-up is so essential. In other words, the size of your tumour, the type of your cancer, and the position of the tumour is just as important as the state of your general health and your psychological make-up when it comes to determining which treatment options are utilized and in what order they are employed. That's why waiting for a day or two, participating in discussions with your medical team, voicing your opinions - and your concerns - and learning exactly what lies ahead is the most empowering thing you can do when first diagnosed. Not only will this give you some peace of mind, but it will also ensure that you receive the ultimate emotional and cosmetic results and the best possible cancer management and care".

Important questions to ask your doctor right now

  • Do I have a choice of treatments?
  • How much time do I have to think about this?
  • What do you feel is the best treatment for me?
  • How long will your suggested course of treatment take?
  • What will be the costs throughout my treatment e.g. medication, surgery etc. and is this covered by my medical scheme plan?
  • Is there anything I can do before, during or after treatment to assist in my recovery?
  • What information is available about my cancer and its treatment, e.g. in books, websites, etc.?
  • Are there any complementary therapies that you believe may be helpful or that are known to be bad for me?
  • Is there someone I can talk to who has been through this treatment?
  • Are there support groups that can help me and my family deal with this illness?

Severe illness can be life-changing. Discovery is here for you

At Discovery, we understand that an illness like cancer affects many aspects of your life. If you're a Discovery Health Medical Scheme member who is diagnosed with cancer, you are covered by a comprehensive Oncology Programme. You'll also have access to a palliative care programme, which offers unlimited cover for approved care at home.

To protect you financially, Discovery Life offers the best dread disease product in the market for cancer cover, as awarded by the Independent Clinical Oncology Network. Our award-winning LifeTime Max 200% Severe Illness Benefit offers coverage across the full spectrum of severities and coverage for remission of a cancer. Contact us to learn more.

The Discovery Health Medical Scheme is an independent non-profit entity governed by the Medical Schemes Act, and regulated by the Council for Medical Schemes. It is administered by a separate company, Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, an authorised financial services provider.


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