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So, You Have Breast Cancer. What Now?

When the words “You have cancer” are directed at you specifically, so many things run through your mind.  The first thoughts may be of shock, surprise, sadness, anger and worry. At a time when you need to think strategically about how you’re going to handle you’re newly diagnosed state, emotions can get in the way. When I received my own breast cancer diagnosis, the Breast Navigator at the facility where I received my treatment gave me a book called My Health, My Journey: Courage for The Journey, Hope for the Future which I found extremely helpful to have and use as a guide for questions to present to my healthcare team.  Here are some questions from that book that may make things easier for you on your journey. Some of them may seem very basic, but sometimes in a crises, the answers to the most simple and basic questions are not asked.

Before you get to asking questions, try to have someone else go with you to your appointments so that there is another ear to hear what’s being said. The information given to you by your healthcare team can be overwhelming at this time.  It’s almost impossible to remember everything. Also, bring a notebook to take notes  during your appointments and to write down any questions you may have after you’ve left your doctor’s office and have time to process all of the information that was presented to you.

Questions to ask about your diagnosis:

  • What kind of breast cancer do I have?
  • Can my breast be saved?
  • What kind of surgery is right for me?
  • What do I gain from the surgery?
  • Will my lymph nodes need to be removed? (there may not be an answer to this until after surgery)
  • What is the size of my tumor?
  • What is the stage of my disease? (there may not be an answer to this until after surgery)
  • Has the cancer spread to any other part of my body or lymph nodes?
  • What does this mean in terms of my treatment?
  • Will I need chemotherapy? (there may not be an answer to this until after surgery)
  • Will I need radiation therapy? (there may not be an answer to this until after surgery)
  • What do you think might happen with my disease in the future?
  • What tests will be/have been done on the mass/tumor and when will I receive/what were the results?
  • Am I ER+ and/or PR+? (there may not be an answer to this until after surgery)
  • What effect will hormone receptor status have on my treatment? (there may not be an answer to this until after surgery)
  • Can you give me a record of these tests?
  • Was the tumor tested for oncogene overexpression? What effect will this result have on my treatment? (there may not be an answer to this until after surgery)
  • Can you provide me with a copy of my pathology report?

Questions to ask about surgery:

  • What type of clothing/shoes should I wear to surgery?
  • Were the margins around the tumor positive, negative or close?
  • How long will I need to stay in the hospital?
  • How do I care for myself after surgery?
  • Do I need special exercises?
  • What should I avoid doing?
  • How will I feel after surgery?
  • What further testing needs to be done to my mass after it’s removed? When will I receive those results?

Questions to ask about treatment:

  • What is the goal of my treatment?
  • What is the best way to treat my stage and type of breast cancer?
  • How successful can I expect this treatment to be?
  • Are there other treatment options?
  • How will the treatment help me?
  • Should I consider joining a clinical trail as a treatment option?
  • Why has this treatment plan been chosen for my cancer?
  • What risks come with treatment?
  • If I choose to not have this treatment, what will happen?
  • How long will treatment last?
  • What kind of changes in my daily life will I have to make while I’m going through treatment?
  • How will you know treatment is working?
  • What side effects should I look for?
  • What side effects should I report to you right away?
  • Is there a chance that once treated, the cancer will come back?
  • How will I know if the cancer comes back?
  • How often and for how long will I have to see a doctor for follow up visits?
  • What will the treatment cost be?

Other questions you may want to ask:

  • May I speak to other women who have had this surgery? How can I get in contact with them?
  • Do you recommend services I can find in the hospital or the community?

This article is intended to convey general educational information and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.

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  1. Sherry Chartrand

    Just to give those making decisions some things to think about. I had a mastectomy with 22 lymph nodes removed in my left side, then 8 rounds of chemo. The months out of chemo I found a lump on the other side. I decided since they weren’t sure to have the other breast removed and reconstruction done.

    That was two years ago and my life has been a living hell since then. After my implants were put in I developed lymphedema in my left arm, shoulder, side, breast and back. I have constant severe pain, the plastic surgeons keep telling me it’s not the implants, sure!

    I am ready to find a new plastic surgeon to take them out. My quality of life is 0 and getting through the day is horrible. I was not told of the possiblity of this nor that implants need to be given a MRI every few years because so many cases of silicone implants leaking. Oh I wish I knew then what I know now. Look it up, the FDA has the information and a site to go to.

    Made a big mistake for vanity and paying for it everyday. Think before you take this drastic step!

  2. Jody Pag

    I love the information, you can never ask too many questions when it comes to breast cancer. I also found a printable pdf at that you can bring with you to your doctor as well that includes 15 of the most important questions you can ask after being diagnosed with breastcancer, I highly recommend it! Maybe make the questions on here into something you can print out as well?

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