When Is It OK To Weed Out Cancer-Related Paper Clutter And Paraphernalia?

February 7, 2019
Barbara Tako
Barbara Tako

Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.

Here are tips for fellow cancer survivors to clear out cancer paraphernailia but keep important medical records.

Do you wonder when it is "safe" to get rid of the cancer-related paper clutter and paraphernalia after remission? Does it seem like a difficult question now that your world will probably never feel quite as safe again? As an eight-and-a-half-year survivor, I let a lot of the paraphernalia go years ago, but I look at my cancer-related medical paperwork a little bit like income tax documentation. It may never be a good idea to toss your medical records, including your specific diagnosis, pathology reports, lab records, treatment plans and any notes you have about your personal reactions/experiences with particular medications. I also kept my wigs— and, yes, a couple mementos given to me by loving friends.

You are not alone if you stress about your cancer-related paperwork. Many people struggle with paper clutter. A cancer diagnosis creates cancer paperwork and seems to ramp up stress and anxiety around deciding what to keep and what to toss. It even creates a weird superstition: If I toss cancer-related information, will the act of tossing it somehow cause my cancer to return? These are strange yet understandable thoughts for cancer survivors.

First, ask the professionals— and I don't mean a professional organizer. Ask your medical team members and your doctors about which information they suggest you keep with you. Down the road, you may move to a different town, state, or even country. See what your doctors recommend for you. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) offers forms you can download that may be a helpful starting point for you and your medical professionals to create a file of information to keep.

On a practical note, when you do weed out, gather everything cancer-related together in one place. Keep a stapler handy (paper clips tend to catch unrelated items) and a pencil for jotting down any questions that come up. Work in small increments of time during your peak decision-making hours of the day. Check out Patient Resource for tips on organizing cancer-related medical paperwork as well as billing, insurance, wills, durable power of attorney and doctor contact information.

Thought it seems strange to me, years out from each diagnosis, I have indeed forgotten some of the details— was it three or four rounds of chemo, and what was the specific number for my Oncotype DX score? When and where did I go for a particular scan? These mental questions make me glad I’ve kept these details in a folder. And some of the other paperwork, brochures and paraphernalia are safe for me to recycle.

After you have spoken to your doctors and weeded out nonessential cancer paperwork, keep the paperwork you might need (but hope you will never need again) labeled and in a safe, easily-locatable, but not-right-under-your-nose-every-day spot. You do not want or need daily cancer reminders in your life. However, having these records out of sight in an available location makes good sense.

Don't forget to treat yourself after you have weeded out your cancer paraphernalia and stored the necessary records in a safe place. Making clutter-clearing decisions after a cancer diagnosis, especially after a cancer diagnosis, deserves a treat!


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