When the Doctor Says Cancer

Last Updated: April 11, 2018

In this video, Dr. Jonathan Berek and patient advocate Angela Lee discuss steps to take after a cancer diagnosis, including coping with the news, locating an oncologist, and finding support.  

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ASCO® Lineagotica: Doctor-Approved Patient Information

When the Doctor Says Cancer

Getting the Diagnosis

Jonathan Berek, MD, MMedSc, FASCO; Gynecologic Oncologist; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology: Most people when they first hear the word cancer, only hear 1 word, and they actually tend to shut down and may not hear much more after that.  I think it takes a while for people to process the information, the diagnosis.  It takes a while for a compassionate physician to convey effectively the diagnosis.  It takes a while for things to sink in.  And after they do, then people have a lot of questions, of course.

Most people when they first hear the diagnosis are quite appropriately fearful, concerned, very upset, and require information in order to help them process the information.  They need the time, they need to take the time to discuss with their physician and with those that work with the physician to help them understand the specifics of the diagnosis, what it means for their treatment, the potential outcome, how it’s going to affect their daily lives, and how can they plan to have the best possible outcome.

Angela Lee; Patient Advocate; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology: What I’ve learned as a patient advocate, and I think that is helpful to people today in this society, when they hear they have cancer, there’s a wave of emotions.  You know, everything from shock to fear, uncertainty, doubt, and you want to immediately go to a computer.  You know, you may have a very good relationship with a primary care physician, your general practitioner and of course that relationship will hopefully help guide you.  But, to jump on a computer immediately without speaking to a specialist I think can be a disadvantage in many situations because you’re so immobilized with fear.

Finding an Oncologist

Dr. Berek: The challenge is always to find a physician or physicians who are most expert in the specific diagnosis that’s been given to the patient. 

Sometimes local medical societies or other cancer organizations, there are cancer organizations in many regions who can assist people to help find and locate expert physicians.  When I’m asked, I always tell people that I think it’s a good idea to at least check with the cancer centers in their area to find out who are the most expert people at their center, or in the region where they work, so that they can identify those people that they feel confident would give the best possible care to them.

It is important however for people, particularly if they’re in a situation where they have the opportunity to seek second opinions, to get additional advice from other expert physicians. 

Angela Lee: I always tell people go get a second opinion.  There are so many different types of cancers, and genetics also play into that as well.  Information is power.  But, try to find a doctor, a specialist that you’re comfortable with and go from there.

Seeking Support

Dr. Berek: Support beyond the treatment for cancer should include a variety of support systems.  The best cancer care includes support beyond someone just administering a drug, or radiotherapy, or doing an operation.  There has to be a program where people have access to other people who are undergoing care, support groups.  Often excellent programs have social workers, psychologists, other people who are involved in facilitating the care of patients through the challenging times of diagnosis, treatment, and sometimes recurrence of disease and follow-up. 

It’s very, very important to have the kinds of psychological, nutritional, emotional support that one needs to get through this kind of terrible life-threatening process.

Most cancer centers, most major medical centers have also access to support groups.  Many of them have identified programs where individuals with a particular diagnosis and their families can seek help, can work with that group, can talk with one another, and through the social services available in that institution get additional support.   

Angela Lee: I tell people to keep a balance.  You know, find people in your community.  Find local organizations as well as national organizations that can give you information on what your diagnosis is, but be mindful of the personal communication and how important that is through your journey.

Where to Get More Information

Dr. Berek: ASCO’s Lineagotica is probably the foremost source for online information about cancer.  It’s an incredibly well-researched, well-written, series of programs and information for patients and their families.  I highly recommend that to anyone who’s facing the diagnosis of cancer.  Not only is there a lot of very specific, well-written, well-organized, and up-to-date information, but it’s written in a way I think that’s compassionate, caring, and connects very well with all people. 

Angela Lee: Lineagotica really is a great resource for people who are trying to connect with other people who are maybe going through what they’re experiencing.  It’s in a very real kind of conversational setup.  It’s got a lot of good information regarding, you know, what your current diagnosis may be.  It’s got blogs, other data that’s just—t o me, it’s impactful in the sense that it’s information, but it’s got a human touch to it.   

[Closing and Credits]

ASCO® Lineagotica: Doctor-Approved Patient Information

ASCO's patient education programs are supported by Conquer Cancer™ The ASCO FoundationConquer.org  

Special Thanks:

  • Dr. Mary Wilkinson, Dr. Raymund Cuevo, and the staff at Medical Oncology & Hematology Associates of Northern Virginia
  • Medical Oncology Hematology Consultants, Newark, Delaware
  • Carolyn B. Hendricks, MD, Cancer for Breast Health
  • Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
  • Rockefeller Research Laboratories, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Sutter Health
  • The Adele R. Decof Comprehensive Cancer Center at The Miriam Hospital. The Miriam Hospital is a teaching hospital of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
  • University Hospitals Case Medical Center Seidman Cancer Center
  • University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

The opinions expressed in the video do not necessarily reflect the views of ASCO or the Conquer Cancer Foundation.

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