As soon as you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, you not only have to deal with many emotions but also decisions that will touch every part of your life — from health to work to family to home. It might seem like you have to decide a hundred things at once, and these important decisions can be a strain when you’re in unfamiliar territory. Slow down. Before deciding anything, understand your specific breast cancer diagnosis. Ask your healthcare provider every question you have and where you can learn more.
A quality cancer center will answer all of your questions and direct you to any additional resources that may be useful so that you can be more confident about your choices and decisions.
Here are eight top decisions you should prioritize as you begin this journey:
1. Choose your cancer care location.
Selecting an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, such as the one at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, is an excellent first decision to make. It gives you access to top-tier, experienced specialists, the latest treatments and superior support services. It also offers the opportunity to participate in research studies if you choose.
2. Assemble your healthcare team.
Cancer care providers should work together to put every patient’s unique needs, treatment plan and support needs first. The Breast Care Center at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist does just that by assigning a nurse navigator who will serve as a patients advocate. The navigator explains important care information, communicates next steps and connects patients to cancer support resources.
3. Weigh treatment and surgery options.
Breast cancer patients have some important choices to make when it comes to treatments and surgeries. For example, mastectomy (removal of the breast) vs. lumpectomy (removal of the tumor) is just one of them. Breast reconstruction also comes with many options, including doing nothing at all. Having the best experts on your team will help you feel confident making these life-altering decisions.
4. Plan how to pay.
Financial planning often is required when embarking on a cancer journey to ensure you are aware of potential expenses and amount of coverage you may expect from private insurance, Medicare or other sources of financial support. At Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist's Breast Care Center, financial counseling resources are available to answer financial questions and assist in guiding you through potential financial support options.
5. Figure out whether you can (or want to) continue working.
Deciding whether to work throughout treatment and recovery depends on your personality, your job and your life situation. Some people will need to stop working so they can relax, while others may welcome the distraction. Talk with your employer right away about workplace policies and arrange something that will work for both of you.
6. Find caregivers for those you care for.
Most people care for someone on a daily basis, whether it be a child, an elderly parent or even a pet. You will need to find someone to take over when you cannot be there for them. It might be as straightforward as hiring a dogwalker or getting your kids into a carpool to and from school. Again, your nurse navigator should be able to point you to support resources.
7. Form a support network.
Family, friends and your faith community will rally around you and ask to help. Let them. Request specific things, such as dinners for your family, transportation to appointments, errands, yardwork and housecleaning. Websites and apps coordinate this type of help for someone experiencing medical issues. It’s a win-win, because you will have a sense of control, and everyone will feel like they helped out in a big way.
8. Keep records.
A cancer journey generates an astounding amount of paperwork. It’s important to keep it together and organized. Use a calendar and a folder or an accordion binder for all the papers. Jot down your reactions and symptoms on the calendar or in a diary so you have a record of what you experienced and when. Having an organized history of everything will help you make the next set of decisions.
For more information about breast cancer care and treatment or to make an appointment to see a breast cancer specialist, please visit Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Breast Care at WakeHealth.edu/BreastCancerCare.