Taking Control of Your Cancer Experience


In many cases, patients feel some loss of control when diagnosed with cancer. Cancer can very quickly consume your life. You may have to stop working to get treatment, you may have to avoid social situations if you are neutropenic, you might not be able to eat the foods you like because of nausea. Cancer is a rollercoaster of ups and downs and you are along for the ride.

Keep in mind that there are ways that you can maintain and regain some control over your experience with cancer. Here are a few.

Karen Arnold-Korzeniowski, BSN, RN
Karen Arnold-Korzeniowski BSN, RN

As a cancer patient, you need to be fully educated about your disease, treatments, imaging tests and results, etc. By educating yourself, you can accept control over your treatment plan. If something about your plan doesn’t feel right to you, speak up. Also, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion if you are not feeling comfortable with your current care team. This is your life and you need the best plan possible.

Get to know your care team and each person’s role. Your team may consist of doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, technicians, social workers, and so on. Keep track of what each person’s responsibilities are and ask for business cards. If you have an issue that needs to be addressed, you will have the information you need at hand and will know who to contact.

Find an advocate. An advocate may be a family member or friend. An advocate can help you get your voice heard. Ensure your advocate understands and respects your wishes. Ensure that you have a medical power of attorney. This person may or may not be your advocate. This person should fully understand your wants if you were to become too ill to make your own decisions.

Another aspect of remaining in control after a cancer diagnosis is asking for help when you need it. Ask for help with tasks that you now find challenging. Cooking and cleaning are tasks that you may have trouble with due to fatigue, nausea, lack of time due to appointments and treatments, and so on. Ask a friend or family member for help, or if you are financially inclined, you can hire someone to manage some of these tasks for you.

Losing your hair is a side effect that you will not have control over, but you can control how you deal with it. You can be proactive and get a wig or scarf before your hair loss starts. Once you notice that your hair is falling out, you can have someone shave your head for you. Or, you can do none of these things and embrace your new (temporary) look.

After a cancer diagnosis, you may not have the control over your life that you once thought you did. However, by adjusting to your new normal and making some changes, you can gain back some control over living your life with cancer.