After Diagnosis: A Guide for Patients and Families


“You have cancer.”

These three words change anyone’s life and they seem to come out of nowhere. The fact is, however, 50% of men and over 30% of women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Cancer is not uncommon.

In this ovarian cancer and breast cancer diagnosis guide, we’ll cover some of the common challenges facing patients and families after diagnoses and steps needed to be taken to ensure the best treatment plan possible.

Immediately after Diagnosis

No two people react to a cancer diagnosis in the same way, but it’s fair to say cancer comes as a shock to most people. It’s perfectly normal to feel shock, anger, fear, and denial in the days after a breast cancer or ovarian cancer diagnosis, and it takes time to process these emotions.

Some shock and sadness are inevitable after a cancer diagnosis. Seeking the support of family, friends, spiritual leaders, or therapists can help you or your loved one confront these feelings. Should feelings of desperation, sadness, and helplessness persist, you or your loved one may be suffering from clinical depression. If this occurs, getting additional help for depression will help you or your loved one better cope with the current condition and cancer treatment plan.

Will I Die?

One of the first questions you or a loved one is likely to ask after receiving a cancer diagnosis is whether you will die or not. No breast cancer diagnosis guide can provide an answer to this question though. The cancer prognosis frequently depends upon the type of cancer, how far the disease has progressed, and other factors.

Generally speaking, an ovarian cancer diagnosis frequently has a poorer prognosis than a breast cancer diagnosis commonly due to a more advanced stage at diagnosis, but each case is unique. A cancer diagnosis does not have to be a death sentence though. Research indicates that over 14 million Americans have had or live with cancer.

Educating Yourself

You or your loved one will be expected to take an active role in the treatment plan, which means you or your loved one must understand as much as possible about the type of cancer and how it’s treated. It can be difficult to focus on anything after receiving a breast or ovarian cancer diagnosis, but on the same token some people find focusing on learning about the disease gives them a sense of control over the situation.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

In the weeks and months after receiving a cancer diagnosis, you or your loved one are going to have many questions for the oncologist. One of the best pieces of advice we can give in this ovarian / breast cancer diagnosis guide is also one of the simplest: if possible, bring someone with you or your loved one to all of the doctor’s appointments. A second person can help you or your loved one remember important information, especially if you or your loved one are still shocked by your diagnosis.

Writing down questions you or your loved one want to ask the oncologist is advisable, as is taking a notebook to jot down information. Do not be afraid to ask questions. You or your loved one needs to stay informed throughout the course of treatment.

Possible questions to ask after receiving a breast cancer or ovarian cancer diagnosis include:

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • What’s my expected prognosis?
  • What can I do to be better prepared for treatment?
  • Are further tests needed before treatment begins?
  • How often do you treat this type of cancer?
  • What treatments do you suggest and why?
  • Is treatment intended to cure or control?
  • What are the pros and cons of treatment?
  • What other treatments are available?
  • How long will treatment last?
  • What changes do I need to make in my work and personal life?
  • How will we know if the treatment works?
  • Will other specialists be involved in my care? If so, who are they and what will their roles be?
  • Are there any symptoms or problems that require immediate reporting?
  • Are there any dietary changes I need to make?
  • What are the chances the cancer will return after treatment?
  • Will my insurance pay for treatment? If not, what are my financial options?
  • What drugs will I take and why?
  • Can I seek a second opinion?

As the patient, you or your loved one needs to have confidence in the oncologist and other members of the cancer team. It’s perfectly okay to ask for a second opinion or a referral to a different specialist if you or your loved one feel that one is needed.

The treatment options depend on multiple factors, including the type of cancer, its staging, you or your loved one’s age, and you or your loved one’s health. Your oncologist may suggest more tests, including genetic testing to better individualize a treatment plan best suited for you or your loved one. Some treatments are intended to cure the disease, while others manage the cancer and control symptoms.

Seek Support

A good support system is essential throughout the course of the cancer treatment, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Knowing a family member can mind the kids while you or a loved one are recovering from surgery, having a friend go to a doctor’s meeting to jot down notes, or having a shoulder to cry on when things get tough. These are invaluable gifts you or your loved one should accept if they are offered.

Support goes beyond family of course. Your hospital may offer nursing or social worker services, complementary therapies, rehab, and nutritional advice, all of which help during treatment. The cancer team can also point you or your loved one towards financial aid if that is needed.

A diagnosis of cancer may seem overwhelming, but with the right support and the right medical team, you or your loved one will be able to take control of the treatment plan and make the right decisions for you and your family or your loved one and his/her family.


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