Whatever gave your life meaning before you discovered you had cancer can still be enjoyable. You have a right to expect life to go on in spite of the interruptions caused by cancer treatments. It is the job of health-care professionals to help you with this if you are having difficulty imagining how anything can possibly be the same after a cancer diagnosis.
The best way to start feeling in control of your life when everything suddenly seems out of balance following a cancer diagnosis is to know what to expect. This means understanding the illness, its treatments, and the health-care system that will provide your care. As a consumer of health-care services, you have more choices than you might imagine as you begin to learn about your illness and how health-care services are delivered.
The diagnosis of cancer almost always feels "urgent" to patients and to their families. At times, people feel there is no time to make choices about the kinds of treatments and services that are available. This is not true. Whenever you are faced with a decision about treatment, it will be important to take a reasonable amount of time to consider all the options available to you. This is time well spent because you should be as comfortable as possible with the choices you make.
Good cancer care is a team effort, and you, the patient, are the most important member of the team. It is important to have confidence in the doctors, nurses, and other professionals who are caring for you. Without this basic trust, the task of coping with cancer will be more difficult. You are the best judge of what you will need from the health-care system. The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society both have toll-free numbers so that you and your family can always get the latest information. These numbers are:
Cancer can be a frightening experience, especially if you are unaware of the many recent improvements that have been made in cancer treatment and long-term control of the disease. A cancer diagnosis may make you feel lonely, scared, angry, and sad. Those feelings are to be expected, especially, in the beginning, when you are trying to deal with hospitals, treatments, tests, and health-care personnel. Most of your care will be provided as an outpatient, either through your hospital or your doctor's office. Sometimes care will also be provided in your home or at a community agency.
This guide has been written primarily for families with an adult member who has cancer. Pediatric cancer is not addressed directly. However, a list of references concerning pediatric cancer may also be obtained by calling one of the toll-free numbers listed in this Introduction.
Most readers will benefit from reading the entire Introductory section. In addition, feel free to select those sections which have particular meaning for you or your family. If you need extra copies of this guide, please call 1-800-537-4063. The next section is about what you can reasonably expect from your hospital, from the health-care team caring for you, from agencies in your community, and from your family.