Let me start by saying that I had cancer. And it sucked. (extremely unsafe for work or home or anywhere, do not click. kidding.). And I survived. And it was Hodgkins lymphoma aka the malignant lymphoma formerly named Prince.
1. Get a three (3) opinions on your diagnosis.
Because you might not have cancer. Or might have a different kind of cancer than the one your doctor says you have.
Your diagnosis needs a second opinion and a third opinion. No matter who your doctor is, or what hospital concluded you have cancer or what tests were performed, your diagnosis should be questioned.
How do you do this? Good question, glad I asked it. I’m clearly very very intelligent. And good looking.
First, go to your doctor and say, “I’d like to have someone else look at my entire file and confirm that I have [insert horrible cancer name here].” Your doctor will not mind. If he had a life threatening illness, he’d get a second opinion and if your doctor is a woman then she’ll be offended by my assumption that she’s a he but English doesn’t have a neutral 3rd person pronoun and I don’t want to call your doctor an ‘it’ so get off my case.
Second, call your friends or call another hospital and find the names of top oncologists. An oncologist is a doctor who specializes in cancer. If you didn’t know that already then you are surely going to hate cancer treatment.
By “top oncologist” I don’t mean an oncologist who likes to be on top, you pervert. I mean an oncologist who is better than other oncologists. How do you know they are better? You don’t. But you can get recommendations from people who have been through treatment for the same cancer you might have and their opinion is better than the opinion of your local hooker or cop. Other doctors as well can provide recommendations.
You should now have the name of at least one doctor that your first doctor doesn’t know and perhaps one name more that your first doctor gave you.
Get your current doctor to send your slides, scans, interviews, everything to these doctors. All slides and scans and everything should be sent by OVERNIGHT mail or hand delivered and insured for zillions of dollars. This shit is gold. If you had a bone marrow biopsy and they lose the fucking slides, how pissed are you going to be when they have to stick a screwdriver in butt cheek again to get more bone marrow?
I hand carried my CT scans to New York to get a second opinion from the father of my close friend Andy K. Then I also went to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston for a third opinion.
When the opinions come back and everyone has agreed that you are going to die slowly and painfully from [insert horrible cancer name here], you’ll know you did the right thing.
2. Get three (3) opinions on your treatment.
You think the diagnosis was tough? Imagine how difficult it is to decide how to treat some [insert horrible cancer name here].
Generally the treatment of cancer is divided into three painful processes:
- Burn - radiation
- Poison - chemotherapy
- Slash - surgery
Yes, I know there are other treatments, like putting golden dolphin crystals on your forehead and eating tofu. Cemeteries pre-dig graves for folks who rely on those treatments.
If you are very unlucky, like me, then you’ll end up with all three treatments. They suck. They are not fun. So when your doctor prescribes 6 months of radiation, neck-removal surgery and arsenic drips, you should get a second opinion.
How do you get a 2nd opinion on your treatment? The same way you did with the diagnosis. Go to the same doctors and ask them how they would treat you. If they say different thigns, then you know something is amiss and you should kick someone in the nuts and go back to your original doctor and have him call the other doctors to discuss treatment.
Your doctors may not agree on treatment. You will have to decide. Since you don’t know shit about oncology, you will make a decision based on either contradictory information or guesswork or how you feel. What are you chances of living to have your own birthday cake again if your cancer treatment is based on whether you had a good dump in the morning? Not bloody high. But that’s the way it works.
As my doctor said, “You rolls your dice and takes your chances.” ( Dr. Roger Lange, one of the greatest oncologists in Boston or anywhere).
3. Once you have your treatment plan decided, it’s time to decide where to get treated.
Yea, it matters where you get treated. Maybe not for survival, but for your mental health.
Do you want to be in a giant chemotherapy factory with unfeeling nurses and an assembly line of drugs being pumped into your arm? Do you want to wake up from surgery with flies laying eggs on your sutures? Do you want to fall asleep skyping with friends while chemo drips into you and wake up stripped of your laptop, your watch, your glasses and your kidney? Didn’t think so.
Treatment can be in a hospital, in a doctor’s office, at home, etc. You have choices. Demand to know what they are.
List the options on a piece of paper. Go to them. Tour them like you would an apartment you are going to rent. Talk to some patients if you can (those people look really sick, eh?). Nurses are the key. Nurses will make this bearable. If you don’t like the nurses, don’t get treated there. Treatment can sometimes be so bad you’d wish you had cancer instead - figure that out.
How do you choose where to get treated? You rolls your dice and takes your chances.
Kidding. You talk to the nurses. Doctors don’t know shit about what it’s like to be a patient. Except doctors with cancer. But they’re dead, so you can’t ask them. Nurses, however, know. Ask the nurses.
4. Don’t change too much about your lifestyle.
If you are a bit overweight, this isn’t the time to go on a crash diet. Sure, you can skip the twinkies, but the doctors are treating you based on your current weight, current everything. Don’t mess with it.
In fact, treat yourself well. It’s not time to reconsider all those unhealthy decision that caused your cancer. If you smoke, you’re going to die soon enough anyway so why quit? Actually, if you smoke, you should quit. If you have other unhealthy habits, it’s too fucking late. And if you already live a healthy life, well, ha ha you got cancer anyway.
If you survive treatment you can start to follow basic advice like exercise, have a lot of safe sex, watch less television, get a dog, eat vegetables and drink a glass of wine every few days.
5. Want more advice? Buy my book Diagnosis + 6 Days