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In the days, weeks, and months following a cancer diagnosis, it’s difficult to know what to do next and it becomes easy to give up control over your own health. You may fall into a “passive patient” mode, ultimately putting your life into the hands of others — doctors, oncologists, and other experts who tell you what’s best for you and your circumstances, what you can and cannot do, what your options are, etc. It can be both intimidating and unnerving to question a proposed treatment plan or seek other routes that you feel may suit you better.

However, learning how to take care of yourself and be your own advocate in tandem with a treatment plan becomes more important than ever during this sensitive time, for the sake of your physical, mental, and emotional health.

While it’s essential to remember that there is only so much in your control, it’s equally important to recognize what you can take responsibility for. The following tips will help you effectively manage your diagnosis and your health, setting you up for the best possible outcome and quality of life. These steps, rather than taking the place of a doctor-recommended treatment plan, are meant to guide your journey in a direction that supports you as an active patient.

  1. Establish a Healthy Relationship with Your Doctor. Many patients don’t often realize that they have a choice when it comes to the relationship they have with their doctor. Like any human relationship, the one between a doctor and patient should be built on mutual respect, compassion, honesty, and open communication. Find someone who is patient, open to maintaining a dialogue and who is responsive to any questions you may have. For a healthy relationship with your doctor, keep in mind the following:
    • You should feel comfortable asking any and all questions.
    • Other doctors may have differing opinions, and it’s OK to seek those out regarding your diagnosis and treatment plan.
    • If your doctor has a negative opinion about something, such as a specific treatment you may be interested in, ask them why they have that opinion and for more information.
    • If you don’t feel you have a healthy relationship with your doctor, consider finding another one.
  2. Establish a Healthy Relationship with Yourself. While it’s likely you’ll get busy listening to the opinions and advice of others, don’t forget to take time to listen to yourself. Ask yourself the questions a best friend would ask you. How do you want to feel throughout treatment? What does quality of life mean to you? Regardless of what anyone else says is best, including your doctor, what matters most to you? What treatments are you comfortable or not comfortable trying?
  3. In the end, you know yourself and your body and how it feels better than anyone. Don’t neglect your instincts.

  4. Get Back to Basics. It will be more than tempting to try the newest health diets and fads, but in the end, the basics are best when it comes to supporting your immune system, managing treatment side effects, and more. These include:
    • Eating healthy. This one truly isn’t complicated; stick to a balanced intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, quality sources of protein, and overall variety. Indulging in moderation won’t harm you, so let go of any food-related guilt that will only stress your body and mind.
    • Lowering stress. Find and make time for activities that you enjoy that also help calm and distract your mind. This can be anything, from walking, reading, listening to music, meditating, etc., but it must be relaxing to you.
    • Staying active. Similar to the point above, find ways of moving your body that you enjoy. This doesn’t need to be the latest fitness fad. It just needs to be enjoyable for you, and sustainable in the long run. Make whatever it is a habit you look forward to.
  5. Do Your Research. This does not mean use Google to self-diagnose. While the internet can be a great resource, it is full of misinformation. Seek out reputable resources to learn everything you can about your disease, the treatments that have been used, what studies have been done, etc. Understand your medications and why your body needs them.
  6. This also includes seeking out and speaking with other patients about their experiences, just remember not to confuse anecdotal evidence with scientific fact.

  7. Find a Support Group. A large part of being an active, self-advocating patient is recognizing the power of a community or support group. There is a lot to be gained from those who have gone through similar journeys. Learn from others in order to support your physical and mental health. This will help you feel less alone in your fight, and more empowered.
  8. While your friends and family may not be able to understand what you are going through, they can support you. Let them, and don’t be afraid to help them help you by telling them what you need from them and how they can be there for you.

While being an active patient cannot replace conventional medicine, it can make an invaluable impact on your health and the outcome of your diagnosis. Simply feeling like you’re making difference for yourself can, in reality, make all the difference in the world.