A breast cancer diagnosis is one of the most terrifying moments of any woman's life. From the moment the doctor says, "It's cancer," everything changes.
I live in fear of that day having watched my own mom go through it. At 12, she told me a lump was malignant, and in that moment, all of our lives became completely different. At the time, I was too young to understand all that she had to do. But now, with 20 years of experience, I have a better handle on what someone has to do after they hear those devastating words.
I spoke with dozens of women who have had breast cancer and gathered 7 things a woman should do after she gets a diagnosis:
- Cry: This could also be scream, rage, pound pillows, laugh, or sob. A woman who gets a diagnosis like this needs to express herself emotionally and doesn't need to be told "stay positive" or "be grateful" or "God doesn't give us more than we can handle" or any number of clueless things well-meaning friends tell us. Sometimes we just need to wallow for a little while. But not for long.
- Find a good surgeon: Ask your doctor for a good surgical oncologist. More than 50 percent of new breast cancer patients go with their doctor's referral, says Leslie Montgomery, MD, chief of the division of breast surgery at Montefiore-Einstein Center for Cancer Care in the Bronx, New York.
- Get a second opinion: Set a course of action with one doctor and then find another one as well. The other 50 percent find their own doctor because of his or her reputation, because of the hospital he or she practices out of, or for any other reason.
- Write everything down: Start a log of timetables of doctors' names and info about the treatment. So often, your memory of the specific facts gets clouded with emotion. Write it all down, especially dates of first biopsies and so on. This will help you when making appointments and following up. If you can't remember something, call the doctor and the nurse and they could tell you the info again.
- Find a friend: Whether it's your husband, mother, daughter, or best friend, find a person who will be supportive, consistent, and helpful throughout your treatment.
- Figure out your insurance: Call your company and have them walk you through everything, what they pay, what they don't, and how to make sure they do. You don't want surprises here.
- Explore treatment options: You don't have to do exactly what your doctor tells you to do. If you're easily overwhelmed, maybe keep it simple, but there are alternative treatments and dietary changes and all different ways to attack breast cancer from the inside. There is no one perfect treatment plan for all women.
Have you been diagnosed with breast cancer? What was the first thing you did?
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