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Tips for navigating your oncology treatment

May 4, 2020 • read

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Tips for navigating your oncology treatment

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is life-altering. There’s a lot of information to process all at once, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Everyone reacts differently. Some people prefer to investigate their diagnosis, while others prefer to take in only need-to-know information and let their doctor do the rest. 

Whatever your preference, know that you’ll be supported every step of the way. Your doctor, friends and family will be with you throughout your oncology treatment. 

With the help of oncologist Dr Barrett, we’ve put together some tips for navigating your diagnosis. 

Understand your situation is unique

After being diagnosed with cancer, it’s understandable to want clarity about how things will unfold with your treatment. However, it can be complicated for your doctor to provide straight answers to your questions. This is because every cancer patient is unique, so your treatment plan needs to be unique as well. 

Your doctor will consider your current health, medical history and any risk factors you might have. Then, they examine the type of cancer you have. Where your cancer is located, what stage it is, and how fast it’s spreading are all important details for creating a treatment plan. 

Then, your doctor will lay out your treatment plan, taking all of the above factors into consideration. They might suggest surgery, medical oncology (medication), radiation, or a combination of the three. 

Because your cancer is unique, it can be tricky to obtain highly personalized treatments. You might want to research what clinical trials are underway. Clinical trials look at targeting very specific types of cancer, but not every trial is available to each hospital. You can ask your doctor what clinical trials are taking place at your treatment center, or search the web for trials that are taking place elsewhere.

Some good resources for looking into clinical trials are:

At the end of the day, you play a big role in choosing your treatment plan. Some patients prefer less invasive therapies that are less aggressive on their cancer. Some patients want to explore all of their options. It’s really up to you. 

Seek credible information sources

Researching your diagnosis online is a touchy subject — since cancer is so individual, the information you find on the internet might not apply to your case. There’s also a lot of dubious information on the net. If you want to research your diagnosis, here are some credible sources to turn to:

Keep up your strength

It’s great to be proactive leading up to your oncology treatment. Staying strong and healthy will make treatment easier, and can have a great impact on your outcome. 

Focus on your holistic health — your body and mind are both important. Try to maintain a hopeful, positive mindset. Having a positive outlook never made a situation worse, and you’ll carry a strong, determined mindset throughout your treatment. 

Take time for mental practices such as meditation, yoga and any religious or spiritual practices you follow. You can also do light physical activity depending on your health and previous fitness levels. Taking walks, gentle jogging, and even physiotherapy can help you feel better and keep your strength levels up. 

Remember to fuel your body, too. Cancer treatment puts stress on your body, so the food you eat will play a big part in how you recover during your downtime. Choose healthy foods that contain vitamins, protein and electrolytes. These foods will also boost your immune system.  

Sleep is essential for keeping up your strength. When you sleep, your body does it’s work to recover from the previous day’s stresses. Try to get 7-9 hours of good quality sleep each night. 

Calm your emotions

Cancer treatment can be a very scary thing, especially in the early days. You’re going down a road you never expected to, and experiencing a lot of change. It’s understandable to be afraid, and to feel lonely in this new reality. 

As much as you can, try to find happiness and relaxation in your daily life. Doing so will lower your body’s stress levels, which can be hugely beneficial as you proceed through your cancer treatment. 

Think about what makes you happiest. Is it seeing your family? Playing an instrument? Photography? Whatever activity brings you joy, find a way to incorporate it into your life on a more frequent basis. This will transport your mind away from stressful thoughts.

Take comfort in the fact that there’s lots of support resources available. There are online forums, books, and digital health platforms to draw from. You might find comfort in speaking to your doctor about your concerns. Your doctor is highly experienced in treating cancer, and can give you knowledgeable words of wisdom. 

Lots of cancer patients are amazed at how their friends and family go out of their way to be supportive. Your social network will be a pillar of strength through your treatment. Keep in mind all the people who love and support you — you’re not alone in this journey. 

Find balance between work, life and treatment

One of the big changes that comes with a cancer diagnosis is the possibility of leaving your job. On one hand, your job can provide a sense of normalcy in your life. On the other, it can be stressful and drain your energy. So, should you keep working?

Since every person’s diagnosis is so individual, the decision to leave or stay at work is completely up to you. Consider your diagnosis, your energy levels, your current state of health and the nature of your work. Do you enjoy your work, and are you able to carry on at your job without becoming drained? If yes, you might choose to keep working for the time being. 

If you choose to keep working, let your employer know about your diagnosis as soon as possible. They can make accommodations for you, and will be flexible if you decide you need to take some time off. 

If your job doesn’t align with your self-care and treatment, you should feel empowered to leave. Your patient navigator can help you with structuring a new lifestyle that revolves around staying strong and healthy. 

Cancer treatments can take months or even years, so it’s not realistic to put everything you love on hold for such a long period of time. If you have activities you enjoy like pilates, seeing your grandchildren or volunteering, keep going with them. They’ll improve your state of mind and keep you connected with your normal life. 

It’s hard to find the silver lining in a cancer diagnosis. Suddenly you’re required to change your life, digest new information and find immense inner-strength. How you choose to navigate your treatment is up to you. Maybe you want as much information as you can get, or maybe you’d prefer not to delve into the specifics. Whatever you choose, there’s support available for you. By asking the right questions, taking care of yourself and enlisting friends and family to stand by, you can navigate your cancer treatment with strength and positivity. 

Talk to an oncology navigation expert.

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