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After a cancer diagnosis: Where to turn for support

Learning you have cancer can be overwhelming. Once you’ve made it past the initial shock, a thousand questions may come to mind. What do I have to do to get rid of the cancer? How will I pay for it? How will I work? How will my loved ones cope? Current, accurate information can ease your mind and bring you hope. To avoid becoming confused by opinions and options, you need to find accurate information you can trust.

Step one: Find a doctor you want to work with.

Start with the doctor who diagnosed your cancer. He or she can refer you to one or more oncologists, or cancer specialists, in your health insurance plan. If you’re not insured, ask how you can contact free or low-cost community services or government-funded programs for people with cancer.

Before you visit a specialist, write out a list of questions. Bring a friend or loved one who can help you remember the doctor’s advice. If you don’t understand the doctor’s answers, which may include terminology you’re unfamiliar with, ask him or her to tell you in words you can understand. You’ll want to know all about your cancer type, stage and other key facts, including the treatment plan your doctor recommends.

Step two: Get a second opinion.

Consider getting a second opinion so you can feel well informed and confident with your treatment decisions. Find out how many consultations your health insurance plan will cover. It’s not uncommon for doctors to recommend different treatment plans. Your doctor can recommend other physicians or you can contact the organizations listed under step three for help.

Step three: Get support and information.

Support groups and organizations dedicated to helping people with cancer are a great source of information and encouragement. Before you even begin treatment, a support group can help you learn how to break the news to your children or give you an idea of what to expect throughout treatment. Consider some of these resources:

National Cancer Institute: Call 1-800-4-CANCER to speak with a counselor or go to for information about your type of cancer, treatment options, clinical trials and recommendations for cancer experts in your area.

American Cancer Society: Call 1-800-ACS-2345 to speak with a counselor at the National Cancer Information Center at any hour, any day of the week, or go to The ACS has articles about finding community resources such as wig programs, support groups and organizations that focus on people with your type of cancer.

American Medical Association: Search the AMA’s doctor finder’s expanded list of medical specialties at htm.

American Society of Clinical Oncology: ASCO provides a Web site, called People Living With Cancer, at Click on “Find an Oncologist,” learn about clinical trials, access message boards or find other information. You can also e-mail them at or call, toll free, 1-888-651-3038 for help.

National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship: Go to or call 1-877-TOOLS-4U to order the Cancer Survival Toolbox®, a free set of CDs developed by cancer survivors, oncology nurses and social workers. Or you can listen to the audio program directly from the Web site or read transcripts. The program helps people deal with the diagnosis, treatment and challenges of cancer and is available in English or Spanish. Chinese transcripts are available, too. Topics include finding ways to pay for care, deciding on treatment options and choosing your healthcare team.

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, reach out for help. A lot of people are available to make things as easy as possible for you so you can focus your energy on getting well.©