Dear Savvy Senior,
My 62-year-old mother was just diagnosed with cancer and is feeling depressed, confused and doesn’t know where to turn. What resources can you recommend that can help me help her? —Overwhelmed Daughter
Being diagnosed with cancer has got to be one of the most difficult and shocking experiences a person can go through, yet 1.4 million Americans will experience it this year alone. Here are some tips and tools that can help you and your mom get more informed about her condition, and organize a plan for her treatment.
If you’re like most people you’re clueless about cancer. So your first step is to learn about your mom’s specific type of cancer along with the treatment options, and thanks to the Internet it’s easy to do. To get started go the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at www.cancer.gov and click on your cancer type in the A to Z list of cancers. Other good and reliable sites to visit are www.cancer.org, www.medlineplus.gov and www.mayoclinic.com.
Choose a Doctor
After you know a bit about your illness, you’ll need to choose a good doctor. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (www.cancer.net) provides tips on how to choose a cancer doctor (known as an oncologist), along with a searchable database to help you locate one. Also see www.vitals.com, a Web resource that will help you locate, evaluate and choose a doctor based on their training, expertise, consumer ratings and recommendations from other doctors. (Be sure the doctor you choose accepts your mom’s health plan.) And to locate one of the 60 plus NCI cancer centers across the country see Cancercenters.cancer.gov.
Research Alternative Medicine
If your mother is interested in learning more about herbs, supplements and other alternative approaches to fighting cancer, go to the National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine (www.nccam.nih.gov). Also, check-out the complementary and alternative medicine guides from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at www.mdanderson.org/departments/cimer.
Find Support Services
There are lots of programs and services available today that can help your mom with a wide variety of cancer-related issues. For example, there are counselors, social workers and cancer support groups that can help with depression, anxiety and other psychological issues; nutritionists and dietitians to help deal with nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue or mouth sores; and physical therapist, pain specialist, acupuncturist and massage therapist that can assist with pain and discomfort.
To find what’s available near your mother, start by asking the doctor, clinic, medical center or hospital that will be treating her. Larger health care or cancer treatment centers usually offer a wide variety of on-staff support services. However, if your mom is being treated in a small clinic or she lives in a rural area, finding help may be more difficult. You can also visit the American Cancer Society Web site at www.cancer.org, type in her zip code and search for services online.
If you don’t find any programs locally that meets her needs, there are also a growing number of Internet support services that can be very helpful too. Some good ones to check out include: Cancercare (www.cancercare.org; 800-813-4673); American Cancer Society Cancer Survivors Network (www.acscsn.org); The Lance Armstrong Foundation (www.livestrong.org; 866-673-7205); and the Association of Cancer Online Resources (www.acor.org).
Find Clinical Trials
At some point in her cancer treatment, your mom may decide to join a study of a new therapy. The Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups (www.cancertrialshelp.org; 877-227-8451) and the NCI (www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials; 800-422-6237) are fantastic resources for learning about and finding clinical trials. They also have questions you should ask before becoming involved in these medical experiments.
Get Financial Help
If your mom’s insurance is limited or if she doesn’t have insurance at all, there are financial assistance programs that may be able to help her. See www.cancercare.org and click on "Get Help" then on "Assistance," or call 800-813-4673 to learn more. The NCI also offers financial assistance information on their Web site at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/support – click on "Financial Assistance and Other Resources for People With Cancer."