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Hearing the Word “Cancer”

April 2024 Vol 10 No 2
Hands being held.

When that 6-letter word is spoken to an individual, the body’s natural reaction of “fight or flight” may kick in. There is, of course, no normal or average response to this news, and the range of emotions can be dramatic. In addition, this involuntary physical reaction can make it difficult to process information as the healthcare provider proceeds to explain the diagnosis. Results of studies on patient recall of information that their doctors give them range from 30% to 60%. Patients’ reactions may be influenced by their knowledge about the diagnosis, the immediate physical support around them, and even stories they have heard about the disease.

If that moment arrives and that ominous word is heard, you have many weapons of control on your side. It helps to be informed, learn facts, and know what to expect. To make informed decisions, regular communication with the healthcare provider is encouraged, whether by text, phone, video, or in person. Asking for medical visit notes is necessary so the information can be reviewed once the “fight or flight” reaction has ebbed. If you have specific concerns, please make the healthcare team aware. Second opinions are a patient’s right. And ask for an oncology patient navigator who will enhance your education, help with barriers to care, connect you to psychosocial resources, and be a consistent advocate.

My wish is that over time fewer people will hear this word. Cancer mortality in the United States is down 33% in the past 3 decades, and two-thirds of all cancers can now be treated as chronic conditions or cured outright. Thank you to all the great oncology researchers and healthcare providers who drove down mortality and increased survivorship!

Millions of people who have had cancer are alive today after leading active lives during treatment. Many are willing to talk to those starting a similar journey. Reach out to a support group through your navigator, hospital staff, or an online community. You are not alone.

Sharon Gentry's Signature

Sharon S. Gentry, MSN, RN, HON-ONN-CG, AOCN, CBCN, is a champion of people living with cancer and an oncology healthcare provider with over 40 years of oncology care experience.

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