Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event. We may feel that the ground has fallen away underneath us. Fear, confusion, anger and a host of other emotions could become our companions. Perhaps, there is a sense of relief that “at least I know what is wrong”.
If the person with the new diagnosis is a loved one, there may be a desire to be helpful, while at the same time, not knowing what to do.
In either case, hearing that you or a loved one has cancer, can lead to feelings of loss of control.
A Useful Resource
Recommended to me as a clinical resource by HopeSpring Cancer Support Centre, Taking Charge of Cancer: What You Need to Know to Get the Best Treatment by David Palma, MD, PhD is a wonderful new book (published in 2017) to help patients and their loved ones take back some of the control lost with the arrival of the diagnosis. Dr. Palma is a radiation oncologist and cancer researcher–focusing on the treatment of lung, head and neck, and metastatic cancers.
An Initiation Into a New World
Taking part in medical treatment can feel like entering a new world. The environment is different and the language is strange. Taking Charge of Cancer is structured to serve as a “how to” manual, as it follows the cancer journey for most patients.
What does this road map look like?
Dr. Palma has divided his book into three parts: Chapter 2-4, 5-8 and the second half of the book (Chapters 9-15).
Chapter 2 outlines the basics of cancer treatment. There is a thorough and easy-to-understand description of what cancer is–the different types and how cancer causes problems in the body. The writer explains how cancer stages are determined and how they relate to treatment plans. He then goes on to talk about the three basic areas of treatment (surgery, radiation and medications) before discussing the outcomes of treatment. Throughout the chapter, definitions for medical terminology are included.
From the broad definitions of Chapter 2, Chapters 3 and 4 move the lens to explore your personal situation. As the treatment journey often begins with a first meeting with the specialist, in Chapter 3, Dr. Palma provides lots of information that will enable the patient and family members to make the most of this appointment. Discussed are: things to include when preparing for the meeting, the importance of bringing a support person, and the suggestion of recording your consultation. The book goes on to describe a typical first appointment and what to expect (from the sharing of medical history and current symptoms, to an actual physical exam).
The content in Chapter 4 helps you to understand your medical records by providing definitions as well as tools to confirm the information (such as diagnosis, cancer stage and pathology reports). A key component of this chapter is empowering patients to ensure that all needed tests have been completed by providing links to standard treatment/testing protocols.
Chapters 5-8 help the reader to understand and evaluate doctors’ recommendations. Information regarding second opinions, research trials, medical bias and weighing the risks and benefits of treatment are provided.
The second half of the book (Chapters 9-15) supports patients on how to get the best possible care. Individual chapters are dedicated to each of the three treatment types–surgery, radiation and medicine (chemotherapy). Chapter 12 contains a detailed discussion about clinical trials.
As a therapist, I especially appreciate the discussions in Chapter 13 and 14 regarding life once treatment is completed or if there is no cure. Dr. Palma talks about the mental health components (depression/anxiety/grief) of the cancer journey and the importance mental health plays in wellness and quality of life.
Why I Recommend This Book
Taking Charge of Cancer: What You Need to Know to Get the Best Treatment is a patient-focused resource. Throughout the book there is a sense that the writer wants cancer patients to be able to be fully aware and involved regarding their diagnosis and treatment. This is evidenced not only by the information included in the book, but links to other resources that will provide further information and support.
A summary and checklist of questions to ask your medical team are included at the end of each chapter, based on the information presented. At a time when events may be happening quickly, these lists will be valuable.
I appreciate the “team” idea that is apparent in this book. Patients and their families are encouraged to ask questions–especially when diagnosis, testing or treatment doesn’t fit with established medical protocols.
While a cancer diagnosis is life-changing, there are tools to cope. This book is one of them.
An now…some inspiring stories of individuals living with cancer…