If doctors recently diagnosed cancer or if your mother, sister or friend has it then you might have questions. Maybe you dont even know where to begin.
STEP 1 Scream, yell and vent. Feel free to cry, throw things, and tell everyone or no one about your diagnosis. But we recommend telling your spouse, mother and best friend as soon as possible youre going to need their support.
STEP 2 Call your insurance company. Ask them to go over your coverage. Are referrals required for all the doctors youll need to see? Will they pay for a second opinion?
STEP 3 Do your homework. A good place to start: What to Do Next, an online brochure that youll find at bcaction.org. Other go-to sites for trustworthy info: the American Cancer Society (cancer.org), Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation (susanlovemd.com), Susan G. Komen for the Cure (komen.org) and CancerCare (cancercare.org).
STEP 4 Get a copy of your pathology report. It contains key information about your breast cancer. That way you can do some research before meeting with a surgeon. To learn how to read yours, go to getbcfacts.com and click on About Breast Cancer/Detection and Diagnosis/Understanding Your Pathology Report.
STEP 5 Find a breast surgeon. Ask your primary care doctor for referrals, or call a cancer center near you and ask which doctors mainly focus on breast cancer surgery. You can also go to castleconnolly.com and search the database of doctors.
STEP 6 Get a second opinion. A second doctor might suggest different surgery or treatment options, or simply validate the first doctors opinion either way, its worthwhile. Dont worry about offending anyone; its common practice, and health insurance usually covers it when cancer is suspected or diagnosed. Make sure the second doctor gets a copy of your lab reports.
STEP 7 Ask lots of questions before making any big decisions. For help generating your list, go to cancer.net and click on Cancer Types/Breast Cancer/Questions to Ask the Doctor.
STEP 8 Talk to someone whos been there. Check out the Sound Off message board at komen.org. It helps with questions about the strange taste in your mouth from chemo or how to deal with your hair falling out. To speak to a survivor on the phone, call the Breast Cancer Network of Strength (800-221-2141) or SHARE (866-891-2392).
STEP 9 Get support. Not all support groups are about sitting around and commiserating: The Comprehensive Breast Center in New York, for example, offers group yoga and cooking programs. Ask at your hospital or contact Gildas Club (gildasclub.com or 888-GILDA-4-U). For a list of specialized support groups, visit womansday.com.
FINANCIAL HELP CancerCare (cancercare.org or 800-813-HOPE) can help with some costs, including transportation, home care, child care and pain medication for those who qualify. And a new program helps people who are having trouble meeting insurance co-payments for prescriptions (866-55-COPAY, cancercarecopay.org).
SOURCES: American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org; www.breastcancer.org; Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, www.komen.org; University of California, San Francisco.