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    The Importance of Being Organized

    by Richard Frank, MD

    When It’s Cancer: First Steps, Part Two

    Once you have dealt with the shock of a cancer diagnosis and followed the steps outlined in Part One of this two-part blog, you will need to be as organized as possible in order to make your cancer journey as livable as possible. Many people diagnosed with cancer do not place the proper focus on integrating their treatment into their lives so that they can continue to function at work, with family and at the things they enjoy. And the vast majority of cancer patients do not pay attention to the tremendous psychological impact of the disease on themselves and their loved ones. I have previously written in my book that the key to a successful cancer journey is to be as organized as possible. This important principle has been excerpted in the journal Coping with Cancer .

    There are seven things you need to organize:

    1.   Your treatment: Choose caregivers whom you like and trust. It is fine to have a second opinion if so desired but do not bounce back and forth between oncologists. Choose one oncologist to be your most trusted adviser and ally to help you make the best decisions at every juncture of your cancer journey. This physician should be someone you feel you can communicate well with and express your thoughts and feelings as treatment proceeds.

    2.    Your loved ones: Although there is only one person going under the surgical knife or receiving chemotherapy, cancer still affects an entire family and more. You should seek the help of professional counselors who will help you cope with cancer as well as provide guidance on how to communicate effectively with your loved ones about your situation. The more united your loved ones are behind you, the stronger you will be throughout your cancer journey.

    3.    Your support system: Family and friends will want to help you cope with cancer but they will need guidance on how best to do so. Rather than let them give you distracting advice which they think is helpful (“I know someone that got cured by this doctor in ___, you have to go there!”), let them help you with chores, children and transportation to and from treatment. Designate a small group of close friends/family, one of whom will accompany you to each treatment or doctor’s visit.

    4.    Your mind: The diagnosis and treatment of cancer, no matter how successful the result, frequently causes depression and anxiety and nearly always, uncertainty. Learning how best to cope with these is vitally important to getting through the treatment phase and especially, during long-term survivorship. The first step is the recognition that everyone diagnosed with cancer should meet with an experienced counselor (social worker, family therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist) at least once; ongoing individual counseling or participation in a group of cancer survivors results in tremendous psychological and emotional dividends. Too few diagnosed with cancer seek the necessary counseling.

    5.   Your work: You and your employer will want to know how much time you will need to deal with cancer. Do not try to maintain a full work schedule during arduous treatments. Consider short or long-term disability depending on the rigors and after-effects of treatment.

    6.   Your finances: Even if you are highly likely to survive your cancer, the diagnosis is a good reason to get your financial situation in order, for the sake of you and your loved ones.

    7.    Your time: The ultimate goal is for you to have your life so organized that you can deal with cancer treatment almost on autopilot. This will also enable you to have time for yourself, which is an essential component of the recovery process. Once you have taken control of your life as a cancer patient, you will likely never return to taking each day and the gift of life for granted.


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