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Cancer Diagnosis: Four Things You Should Do Right Away

I wrote We Were Better Together: Navigating Cancer as a Couple for both the patient who may be in the process of choosing cancer treatment, and the spouse who wants to know more about helping a sick partner. To find out more about the book, click here.

From my experience putting together a cancer battle plan with my wife Melissa when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer, I learned a lot about how to organize the process to support her healing and to keep our relationship healthy and thriving. Here are four things I recommend you do right away if you or your partner have received a diagnosis for cancer or any serious illness.

1: Give Yourselves Time to Process, Then Discuss Your Approach.

A diagnosis brings stress, fear and sadness. It also puts pressure on a couple to “get started right away” and to drop everything else to try to educate themselves about all the options and to dive into the administrative storms of getting appointments and tests and treatments.

Do give yourselves at least a little time each day to step away and process what you’re feeling. Then you can come together to talk about how you want to approach this challenge together. Tell your partner what is most important to you in this moment and how you’d like to take next steps, so that you can move forward in unity and mutual support.

2. Get Support Where It Will Help You Most.

If you are religious or spiritual, seek out your faith leader as soon as possible to shore up support and guidance for your emotions as you move forward. If you’re not spiritual, then consider engaging a couples therapist to help you create frameworks for communicating well and strategies around being there for each other in this challenging time. When friends and family offer support, ask for help with things you need, such as child care or carpooling for kids’ activities, pre-prepped foods to make mealtimes easier, or company in going to treatment appointments.

3. Check Your Insurance.

With our healthcare system being what it is, it’s vitally important to understand your coverages and requirements as you begin making choices about your treatment. You’ll need to be very clear on what is in-network, for example, and what procedures may need advance approval, so that you can stay in control of expenses and avoid surprises. If you have an agent, give them a call. Otherwise call your insurance company directly or speak with your hospital or medical center.

4. Be Your Own Advocate.

In the first days and weeks after a diagnosis of serious illness, you can feel overwhelmed and even helpless, as if you’re obligated to accept the recommendations of your first provider. Take the time to make sure you understand your options and that you are satisfied with your care team and their plan. You can get a second or third opinion and you can base your decisions on your own personal priorities and preferences.

Starting cancer treatment is a huge project that will last for months if not years. Taking the time to process, strategize, get support and advocate for yourselves can make all the difference in your experience.

For more resources, take a look at our Reading Room.

Bob Shearer

Bob Shearer (5)

Robert J. Shearer is the co-founder, former CEO and chairman of Shearer Foods. During his 40-year tenure, he scaled the company to a multi-million-dollar enterprise, receiving accolades from numerous trade and business organizations. For his entrepreneurial achievements, Shearer has been recognized by Ernst & Young, Crain’s Cleveland Business and the Northeast Ohio Business Hall of Fame. A former chairman of SNAC International, Shearer also served on numerous boards and is a frequent keynote speaker on entrepreneurship. He divides his time between Florida, Arizona and Ohio.

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