Healthy One Day, Cancer Patient the Next: Seeking (and Finding) Your Best Results

by PJ Hamel Patient Expert

When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer (or any potentially deadly illness), your first reaction is shock, followed quickly by “Let’s hurry up and get it out.” But with most cancers, there’s time to assess your situation and make some practical decisions before starting treatment. Read these tips on how to calm down, understand the path ahead, and prepare for a successful journey. And after you’re done, read part 2 of this slideshow, Diagnosed with Cancer? 7 Tips for Calming Anxiety.

Female doctor examining patient's x-ray

Find out the specifics of your cancer

Saying you have breast cancer is like saying you own a car: the devil’s in the details. Breast cancer isn’t a single entity: According to, there are 10 identified types of invasive breast cancer. And some can be further broken down by the cells’ specific characteristics. Once your biopsy results have been compiled into a pathology report, make sure to work with your doctor to ensure that you understand all of the information you've received.

Tablet with the diagnosis breast cancer on the display

When researching online, pay attention to dates

Is that article you’re reading about chemo side effects dated March 22, 1996? Exit the page. Cancer treatments change radically over time, and breast cancer treatment is one of the fastest-changing. Skim down the publication dates of your search results, and choose the newest one with the pertinent information you need.

Regional cancer center entrance

Look for a treatment facility with the best fit

If your diagnosis is rare or requires complex treatment, consider treatment (or a second opinion) at the nearest Comprehensive Cancer Center. These government-designated hospitals treat a huge range of cancers on a regular basis, and have success rates higher than standard hospitals. If your diagnosis is a simple one, your local hospital may be just fine. Distance from home, size, staff, and “feel” will all play into your decision when choosing where to be treated.

Close up of male hands on business document

Speak to your insurance provider

No matter what kind of health insurance you have, cancer treatment can prove expensive. Contact your insurance company, explain your situation, and ask to speak to someone familiar with cancer coverage. You’ll want to go over deductibles, pre-approval for procedures, length of covered hospital stays, and other benefits that can vary from company to company.

Quitting smoking

Start to make necessary lifestyle changes

Are you over-eating, staying up late, binge drinking, smoking, or otherwise pursuing an unhealthy lifestyle? Now’s the time to at least try to change those bad habits. You’re going to need all the physical strength and well-being you can muster to make your way through treatment.

People at a construction site

Examine your job responsibilities

Once you know the extent of your treatment, assess whether you can still handle your current job. For instance, if your job is very physical, you may need to go on short-term disability, or do lighter work while you heal from surgery. Or you may need to take extra time off on a regular basis if you’re undergoing chemo. Speak to your HR department to find out what accommodations are available to you.

Winter snow shovelling

Consider your daily activities

Do you live alone? Do you have small children needing lots of physical care? Do you regularly do heavy chores like snow shoveling or hauling trash to the curb? Make a list of everything you currently do that might become difficult during treatment. Then contact your local branch of the American Cancer Society to find out what kind of volunteer help they can connect you with (e.g.,

Radiation parking sign at cancer center

Research your hospital’s patient services

Many hospitals and cancer centers have special services for cancer patients. Does your treatment facility offer valet parking? Free Reiki or therapeutic massage? Free or reduced-cost housing in the immediate area? A support group? You may not think you need a support group but, as time goes by, you’ll find it’s an excellent place for “insider” information on doctors, nurses — and hidden sources of free coffee and snacks!

PJ Hamel
Meet Our Writer
PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via