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Top Advice if You Get Breast Cancer

Ok... your head is reeling... Stop surfing the web after you read this page of advice!

First Things First
  • Breathe, Breathe, Breathe! There, don't you feel better already?

  • The disease is likely to be curable — stay positive!

  • Assemble a team of caregivers who work together and with whom you are comfortable.

  • Take notes — lots of them. Write down questions before you call or see the doctor.

  • Bring a trusted friend or family member along to appointments to help "hear" and give you more confidence in your interactions with your doctors.

  • When in doubt, ask for a second opinion. Your doctor will help forward information. Not everyone feels the need for a second opinion, but if you think you'll benefit, ask your doctor. (See sidebar.)

  • Don't rush into anything. Although you may feel like it, you are not having a heart attack. You have the time to make sure you are comfortable with your health care providers, understand all your diagnostic and treatment options and are satisfied that what you are doing is what is best for you.

  • You are entitled to feel a lot of different (and strong) emotions about having breast cancer. Give yourself a break. Let yourself go.

  • No one is born knowing how to deal with a breast cancer diagnosis. If you look back and tell yourself that you handled it all perfectly and with grace, you'll be the first ever to think so. As Bette Davis said; "It's gonna be a bumpy ride," but you (and many others before you) will get through it.

  • Support from friends, family and caregivers is important, don't be afraid to lean on people if you need them, and at least temporarily ignore those who are less than helpful.

  • There are those who love you and want to help, but don't know how. If you want them to know how you feel, they won't be able to read your mind. Let people know what you want and need.

  • If you have kids: make sure they know that there are many different types of cancer. Kids are kids and somebody will be sure to tell them that they know somebody who died from cancer. Tell them to come straight to you with any questions.

  • If you're getting chemo, expect to lose your hair. There are some exceptions, but don't plan on being one of them. Get a great wig, get a tattoo, wear some great headpieces.

  • Try to maintain physical activity and some sense of normalcy in your life during treatment.
Top 10 Questions to Ask Your Physician (From WebMD)
  1. What stage cancer do I have? What are my treatment options?
  2. Will I need to have a mastectomy?
  3. Will I need to take chemotherapy? If so, what side effects can I expect and how can I minimize them?
  4. Would hormone therapy or Tamoxifen be right for me?
  5. Can I continue my usual routine while I'm in treatment?
  6. Will the treatment affect my fertility? What if I want to have children later on?
  7. How do I explain my condition to my family, friends, and colleagues?
  8. Are there foods, over-the-counter drugs, or supplements I should use or avoid?
  9. Can you recommend support groups or counseling?
  10. Are there any clinical trials I could participate in?


Doctor's Note

"Here is what I tell my patients about second opinions. I HIGHLY recommend it. Not everyone needs it, but if you're thinking about, it's a good idea.

First, what's the question? If a mastectomy has been recommended, then see a breast surgeon for a second opinion. If it's a Chemo issue, then see a medical oncologist.

Some people want to go to the big centers (Memorial Sloan Kettering or Dana Farber). As the first one in the loop, my office can get all the info where it needs to go once we know where the patient wants to go. Getting a second opinion within the same group practice may not be a problem, depending on the issue involved.

No MD worth his/her salt would do anything BUT encourage the patient who's asking for a second opinion...I try to bring it up first, so patients won't be uncomfortable about it. Never forget who's number one - having breast cancer is a major ordeal - do what seems best for you!"

— BB
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