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Receiving the diagnosis that you have cancer is completely overwhelming. You are quickly thrust into a whole new world of doctors, nurses, tests, and procedures. There also seems to be new language in this world filled with medical terms that you have likely never heard before. You know you’ve been in several different appointments, probably with different doctors, but it’s not unusual to have trouble remembering the details of any of these conversations. Confusion, anxiety, fear, and anger are all common and completely normal feelings to have, particularly in the beginning.

Despite this whirlwind, you are expected to make major decisions about what kind of treatment you’re going to take to fight this formidable disease. My best advice is to make sure you have at least one person with you (family member and/or close friend) who can help you listen to the doctor’s recommendations and take some notes for you to look over or review later when you are at home. Doctors can only make their best recommendation. Since you are the one who will be taking the treatment, you need to be the one who makes the decision. If you have multiple treatment options and you are uncertain which one to choose, feel free to get a second opinion by another oncologist. (One of my previous articles, Tips on Choosing Your Oncologist may be helpful, too.) The biggest mistake I have experienced patients make is delaying the start of their treatment, simply because they cannot make a decision. Talk to your doctors and nurses about treatment options, ask as many questions as you need to, get a second opinion if need be, and then discuss it with your family or a close trusted friend. 

If the reason why you’re having such a hard time making a decision is because you’re not comfortable with your cancer doctor, find someone new as soon as possible. If the reason you’re not making a decision is because you really don’t understand the treatment options or your diagnosis, request another appointment with your cancer doctor or oncology nurse practitioner so you can ask additional questions. Bring at least one family member or close friend that you trust to help you write things down and ask questions. Do not leave until they’ve explained things in a way that makes sense to you and your questions have been answered. Then agree on your plan of treatment and get it scheduled to start as soon as possible.

Vickie Girard, cancer-fighting warrior and author once wrote about starting treatment, in her book There’s No Place Like Hope. I hope it may help a few of you who are struggling with this decision.

“Remember that your treatment has a beginning and it also has an ending. I almost didn’t start because I wasn’t sure I could do the full year of required treatment. How silly. After all, I wasn’t leasing a car (that, you are locked into)—I was only fighting for my life. Since I was only fighting for my life, I could stop treatment at any time. I could make the choice every day as to whether I would continue to fight. Each day I said, “Today I choose to fight, and tomorrow I’ll decide.” But “tomorrow always turned into “today”—and today never seemed like a good time to stop. Leave the ending open if you must, but step into the beginning or the ending is already written!”

Girard, Vickie. (2004). There’s no place like hope. Lynnwood: Compendium, Inc.