Decision-Making After a Cancer Diagnosis

Empowered cancer patients make their own decisions after diagnosis, including treatment, support and lifestyle changes.
When the doctor delivered the news of her cancer diagnosis last fall, Gwendolyn Otey was in absolute denial.

“When I heard the words ‘lung cancer,’ they just didn’t make sense to me,” Otey says.

Otey, 58, of Richmond, Va., recalls being shocked during the first visit with her oncologist and admits that when doctors said she needed to have a third of her right lung removed, the news was overwhelming.

“Hearing them say what they wanted to do to me, I felt like I was in another world,” she says.

As patients like Otey come to terms with their cancer diagnosis, many want to be in charge of their own decision-making but are often too emotionally weighed down to take the reins. Experts say the first step for patients who want to take charge is to learn about their cancer type.

“As scary as cancer is, [most patients] have time to get the right information in order to make the best decision,” says Mary Helen Hackney, MD, a medical oncologist at Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center in Richmond.

In fact, a 2009 review of more than 50 research studies showed that when patients use what are known as “decision aids” to get health options about their conditions, they have an easier time making decisions. Decision aids—pamphlets, videos or websites—that include treatment options with the possible benefits and harms can help patients become more knowledgeable and better prepared to participate with their healthcare providers in the decision-making process.

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