a woman standing at the beginning of a path that diverges in many directions and above her is a cancer ribbon, a stethoscope, some pills, a medal, and a shield with a red cross on it

Factors that Influenced My Decision for Cancer Treatment

Making a cancer treatment decision can be frightening because of anxiety, lack of knowledge, and a sense of urgency. Even as an experienced nurse, I was unaware of the latest knowledge. I immediately began to research my type of cancer and reported options.

Understand your diagnosis

The cancer treatment most appropriate for you depends on the type and stage of your cancer. The stage refers to the extent of your cancer as determined by diagnostic x-rays, labs, and biopsies. The information includes where the tumor is found, cell type, size, if it has spread to other areas of the body, and tumor grade, or, how the cancer cells look and how likely the cells will grow and spread.1 My CAT scans, PET scans, and biopsy determined both the stage and grade of my follicular lymphoma. By understanding my diagnosis, I could then ask the right questions about my disease. My oncologist was very open to questions and suggested trustworthy sites as some can be inaccurate, misleading, and frightening.2

Know your treatment options

Ongoing research is in place for blood cancer treatment. New therapies and treatments are continually reported. One treatment is called active surveillance or watch and wait, which was advised by my oncologist. At first, I found this most distressing but upon further study and discussion with my oncologist, I discovered that this strategy was appropriate. Other therapies include radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and clinical trials.2

Understand goals of treatment

It is important to know the goals and purpose of your treatment as each case is individualized. The therapy may be to slow the progress of the cancer, to stop the growth, or palliative and supportive care for the patient.2

Ask your oncologist about all possible side effects, both immediate and long term. You should discuss any sexual or reproductive concerns.

Overall impact on your life

I had so many questions and concerns about the future. What were the chances that I would live with and without the treatment? Would I get to see my beautiful granddaughter grow up and graduate from high school? What are the potential short- and long-term effects of each treatment? What will be the effect on my quality of life? Will I be able to return to my nursing profession? Would I become dependent on my husband for care?

Taking charge in your cancer care

I strongly recommend a second opinion, as another set of eyes can make a difference. A different oncologist may have different experiences and they can help you make a decision or confirm your current treatment plan. My oncologist insisted on a second opinion from an oncologist from a regional tertiary care center.

Depending on your insurance coverage, you should explore possible sources of financial aid which may include the American Cancer Society and other disease-specific organizations. Seek support and advice from family, friends, clergy, spiritual advisors, or another person with cancer. I remember contacting a person from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, who provided such terrific and supportive advice. She directed me to various sources of information which relieved some of my anxiety. You can take charge and an active role in your care by seeking all possible information and using the available resources.

I hope the above strategies are useful in your cancer journey.

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