Four Steps to Take After a Cancer Diagnosis

In the early 1900s, hearing, "You have cancer," was a death sentence... one that no one dared talk about.

Back then, cancer was misunderstood and kept secret. Few were studying cancer. There were no campaigns to raise money for cancer research, like there are today... And cancer could noticeably alter a person's appearance – without any explanation. So its existence became taboo and stigmatized.

In 1951, people gathered outside Buckingham Palace awaiting news of King George VI's health, following the removal of a part of his lung.

Doctors revealed the surgery was needed for "structural changes" they had noticed in King George's lungs. What they hid – from the public and King George – was that he had lung cancer.

Folks avoided saying "cancer" out loud, as if just acknowledging it would put themselves at risk. Even doctors lied about their patients having cancer in order to protect a person's dignity – saying instead that someone simply "died of old age."

Nowadays, withholding such serious information from a patient is completely unethical.

And thanks to activists like Mary Lasker, who – in the 1940s – used her social connections to generate media coverage and political support, we began to see better cancer care and research...

Eventually, President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act of 1971 into law, which established the National Cancer Institute. The act dedicates resources cancer research, training, and care.

But despite decades of progress, cancer still impacts most (if not all) of our lives. And for most of us, the stigma feels deeper than it should. Maybe you've received a cancer diagnosis, or maybe someone very close to you has at some point in their life.

According to the American Cancer Society, around 2 million people in the U.S. will receive a new cancer diagnosis this year. Today, I'm going to share the four steps you (or your loved one) need to take immediately after receiving a cancer diagnosis.

Hearing, "You have cancer" is still scary. But whatever you do, don't panic. Read on. And hopefully today's message empowers you as you take these next four crucial steps in your journey...

Step No. 1: Take a breath. Take a walk. Take a step back.

Cancer is a serious life event, but unless you've been diagnosed with acute leukemia (a blood cancer that can kill in days) you don't need to make a decision minutes after hearing the news. Never let any doctor bully you into a treatment that isn't right for your own personal situation.

And don't allow anyone else's fear or anxiety to make you more anxious. We know that too much stress weakens the immune system, and you need your immune system performing well for your entire life. So, choose who you share your news with carefully. And if someone is stressing you out, gently tell them to chill, and not make matters worse. Explain ways they could use their energy in a more helpful way.

Step No. 2: Confirm your diagnosis.

This means go out and get a second opinion. Doctors make mistakes like everyone else. Don't put yourself through dangerous treatments – like radiation and chemotherapy – without the certainty you have cancer...

I have one friend who almost got IV therapy for a cancer misdiagnosis. Her treatment team at the teaching hospital didn't double check the pathology. And the IV drug they planned to use kills 5% to 8% of patients. Not good odds if you don't need the treatment in the first place...

Step No. 3: Get your pathology results.

Wait for your tissue pathology before taking any action. If you have a "solid cancer" affecting an organ – like breast cancer, for example – waiting for the pathology results to determine your cancer type is crucial before starting treatment. However, this may not apply if you have a blood disorder like acute leukemia, which requires urgent treatment.

Even more important is to make sure the doctor is following up and looking for those results. I hate to tell you the number of times doctors get so busy that they forget to check results and report them. Or worse, confuse two identical names for patients in the same medical system. Make sure it's your name, your birthday, and your results.

Step No. 4: Do your research.

Research, research, and then research some more. Find out what your treatment options are. For example, find which hospitals lead the field in the type of cancer you have and how to join potential trials. A good place to start learning is the National Cancer Institute's website...

There you'll find information on your specific cancer type and any current research in the field. Every type of cancer has specific treatment options. You and your doctor will need to discuss whether surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, or a combination of those treatments is the best option for you.

If you're facing cancer, you're not alone. Clear your head, slow things down. Get a second opinion, get specific details, and then gather more information and resources. There's no shame to be had with cancer, so if you're feeling shame, it's best to let it go. That way, you can use more of your energy to heal and potentially live again cancer-free.

On Thursday, I'll discuss different cancer treatment options to help you stay informed on what options may be available to you.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
March 1, 2022