Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Cancer Questions You Never Get Answered

Being diagnosed with cancer is the most unnerving, sudden, and impactful event you will ever experience. No one ever expects it, and telling someone they have cancer is just like saying they are being chased by a shark. Everyone knows what the danger is, and they know what the danger can do.

When you are diagnosed with cancer, you have a lot of questions about a lot of things. This week, I am going to throw out the four biggest questions new cancer patients have, and I will answer them.

Your oncologist is your biggest ally when it comes to your fight against cancer. No one, aside from your spouse and parents, cares more about getting you better than your oncologist. But when it comes to answering questions, your oncologist has to be very careful. They cannot make you promises and they cannot tell you that you will get the same results others have gotten. Your oncologist is also not going to speculate on other parts of your health that could be affected by cancer.

Actually, I should clarify by saying that there are things your oncologist won't talk about because they just don't know. A good oncologist understands the tremendous weight every word they say carries. They have a huge responsibility and they take it very seriously. It is also true that patients often do not share their experiences with their oncologist outside of discussing treatments. In many ways, your oncologist may not have answers for you because they have no idea what you are talking about. So let's dive into the four biggest questions cancer patients have that rarely get answered.

Is cancer my only problem?

Cancer is the only problem your oncologist is going to discuss with you because it is the thing they specialize in. The truth is that, depending on your cancer and treatment, you might have to deal with more than just cancer.

For me, cancer medication that constantly raised my blood pressure eventually gave me diabetes and almost took my eyesight. When you are getting treated for cancer, it is a good idea to start seeing doctors you would ignore in the past. A dentist, eye doctor, primary care doctor, and even a dermatologist would be able to give you the full spectrum of care you will need.

Is cancer the reason for all of my pain?

No. One of the most difficult things for new cancer patients to understand is that their body is still functioning as it normally would and you still need your primary care physician for things like swollen ankles or a painful shoulder. The thought of cancer will consume your mind, but your body is still running full steam ahead. If you have a pain in any part of your body, it is best to ask your primary care physician first and let them recommend that you talk to your oncologist.

Is my oncologist the only doctor I will talk to?

We just covered most of this earlier, but I wanted to post this question to shed some light on how your treatment works. Your oncologist will work hand-in-hand with your primary care physician on your overall health. In my situation, my oncologist has my primary care physician handle my high blood pressure, diabetes, and pain issues. Whenever anything comes up with high blood pressure, even if it involves cancer medication, my oncologist will refer me to my primary.

Am I going to go broke?

I have stage four cancer, so I needed a lot of treatment, surgery, and time away from work for the first year or so of my treatment. My wife also had to take unpaid time off in order to help me get to and from appointments and basically be the person who talks to the administrative staff. I am really bad at talking to people about detailed medical stuff. My wife simply says I am a bad patient, and she is right!

The degree to which your financial life will be impacted by cancer depends on the severity of your condition. If you are looking at surgery and a lot of treatment time early in the process, then you are looking at a lot of lost time at work. Unless you have a five or six-figure bank account to cover the expenses (and even with insurance, you will have a lot of expenses), then there is a very real chance that you could go broke.

Going broke is not the vast wasteland most people think it is. There are ways to keep your head above water and things you can do to make sure you don't lose your home. But it takes teamwork with your spouse, your friends, and your family. Cancer is a money-grubbing disease. There are so many ways that cancer hits your bank account, and hits it hard, that it is almost impossible to walk away without some kind of financial damage.

I hope this helps new cancer patients to understand what they are headed for. You will find out who your real friends are when you get cancer, and you will get a much better understanding of your family relationships as well. Cancer is going to be a part of your life. The degree to which cancer alters your life is up to you.

George N Root III is a Lockport resident, writer, and guy with cancer. You can contact him at