A doctor’s tips on dealing with a cancer diagnosis

WASHINGTON — It’s one of the most frightening things your doctor can tell you: You have cancer.

It’s not easy, but Dr. Peter Edelstein says the first thing to do if you get that diagnosis is, literally, take a breath.

“You watch TV or the movies, and you get the feeling that ‘I’m diagnosed with cancer today, and I have 72 hours to live,'” says Edelstein, author of the book “Own Your Cancer: A Take Charge Guide for the Recently Diagnosed and Those Who Love Them.”

It doesn’t work like that, Edelstein told WTOP’s Veronica Robinson. You’ve got time to think through your decisions, just like with any major life event.

“You’ve owned all of your experiences as an adult up to now. You’ve raised your kids; you’ve picked your career; you’ve made decisoins about mortgages. This is another major challenge. And before you just run to whoever was referred to you as your new doctor, you should make a plan,” Edelstein says.

The first step in that plan: picking a doctor. Edelstein says it’s “amazing to think that people will pick a cancer surgeon like me, having been referred to me by their primary doctor, someone they see probably 15 minutes a year.”

It’s important to decide what kind of doctor you’ll work best with.

That may mean looking for second opinions, and Edelstein says that, to the extent you can afford it or your insurance will cover it, get as many opinions as you can.

Check your insurance policy to see what they cover as far as additional opinions.

“Second opinions are frequently covered, but there may be some limits on where you can get them.”

Unless it’s a simple, easy-to-treat cancer, a second opinion is critical. People commonly worry about second opinions, thinking that it’ll offend their first doctor.

Edelstein says not to worry about that. He tells his patients a few things regarding second opinions.

“First of all, I’m not offended; I’m a professional. And in fact, if you get that second opinion and they agree with me, you’re gonna really be happy that we’re partnering.”

Also, Edelstein says he tells patients that they are the ones with cancer.

“You have the cancer. This is your one time to do this right, so figure it out.”

And make sure it’s a doctor who’s not affiliated to your first doctor, Edelstein says. That’s the only way you’ll get an honest opinion.

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