I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a blood cancer) in 1991, at the age of forty-one. Shortly thereafter, my wife was tested to see if she could donate platelets to me when I needed them after chemotherapy. Her blood tests revealed she had leukemia (CLL).
Miraculously, we’ve survived for almost 15 years. As a result, we’ve learned many, many things about cancer that we can share with others. Listed below are the 7 crucial things you must know about this disease. We hope you find these tips helpful.
1. Know Your Cancer Risks
Cancer can be the result of genetic mutations, viruses, or environmental carcinogens. By now, we all know the dangers of smoking and being exposed to harmful chemicals. But there are lots of other things that can cause cancer. The Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention offers an interactive tool to help you determine your level of risk for 12 types of cancer.
2. Early Detection is Crucial
A critical part of surviving cancer is early detection. The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the better your chances for remission or long-term survival. Cancer is actually a group of more than 100 diseases. Therefore, it’s impossible to provide a definitive list of symptoms.
If you feel, deep down, there is something wrong with you, there probably is. Don’t ignore early warning signs. Don’t be in denial. We’ve had friends and acquaintances that did and were and they’re no longer here.
3. See an Oncologist or Better Yet a Specialist
This point may seem obvious to most people, but it’s not to everyone. There are millions of cancer patients that are being treated by surgeons, internists, family practitioners, and other healthcare providers. You really should try to be seen by an oncologist. The American Society of Clinical Oncology can help you find an oncologist or specialist. The American Society of Hematology will help you find a doctor if you have a blood cancer.
Specialists are most likely to be aware of current treatment options and clinical trials that will be of specific benefit to you.
4. Use the New Treatment Option Tools
Take advantage of the free, treatment option tools like the one offered by NexCura called NexProfiler. These decision-making tools can help you learn which treatment options are right for you. What are the pros and cons of each? You'll get information that's personalized to your unique clinical situation, so you'll spend less time wading through irrelevant articles.
5. Be Committed to Your Treatment
Whatever clinical trial or treatment plan you and your doctor agree on, stay committed to it and give it your all. We noticed a number of patents that just dropped out of the protocol I was in for one reason or another. We saw others still smoking on the sly. We talked with lots of patients who didn’t take all their medications everyday or follow the recommendations for avoiding infection. You have to believe in yourself, your doctor, and your treatment if you truly want to get better. It’s your primary responsibility, not anyone else’s.
6. Take Advantage of the Vast Amount of Resources Available
The amount of information and support for cancer patients is astounding. You can get free educational materials, emotional support, financial aid, assistance with insurance issues, help with your physical appearance, dietary recommendations, you name it.
Perhaps the two most comprehensive cancer Web sites in the world are the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.
7. Find a Transplant Center that Specializes in Your Disease if Possible
If you are going to do a bone marrow or a stem cell transplant, try to find a hospital that does a lot of transplants for patients with your disease. Some transplant centers specialize in certain diseases. The Myeloma Institute of Research and Therapy (and its earlier incarnations) in Little Rock has done almost 6,000 bone marrow and stem cell transplants for people with multiple myeloma.
The National Marrow Donor Program maintains a database of transplant centers and provides detailed information about each centers program.
So there you have it, the seven crucial things you need to know about cancer. We wish you the best of luck on your journey. Try to remember these three things: Keep a smile on your face and a song in your heart; Keep learning about your disease and the newest treatments; Keep your hospital gown tied in back. See you in remission.
Mark and Mary Grace have developed the Blood & Marrow Transplant Resources to share their knowledge about cancer and what they have learned about bone marrow and stem cell transplants. Mark has written a book entitled, “Over 140 Things You Need to Know about Your Autologous Bone Marrow or Stem Cell Transplant” to help educate people about the benefits of these procedures. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book are donated to The Bone Marrow Foundation to help those who need financial assistance with their transplants.