Diagnosis

Welcome to Lovelace Cancer Center

A cancer diagnosis, whether it's for you or a loved one, is tough to hear - the Lovelace Cancer Center is here to help. As you research the best treatment option you'll hear the same words over and over again - comprehensive care, cutting edge technology, expert physicians.

But what does it mean?

At Lovelace Cancer Center we believe in making you, not just your cancer, the focus of your treatment. From diagnosis to treatment to remission, our physicians are dedicated to being on the journey with you. We care about you, your family, your quality of life and your goals. We care about providing you with the best treatment in New Mexico, which means the best technology and the best physicians. That's why we, your physicians, pride ourselves on a multidisciplinary approach. We meet weekly to confidentially discuss patient cases and brainstorm, together, the best possible plan for your care.

Choosing Lovelace Cancer Center chooses a program that believes in preventable, treatable, beatable cancer.

 

Defining Cancer

Cancer is a group of diseases that begin in the body's cells and involve abnormal growth. Normal cells grow and divide to produce more cells as older cells die off, this keeps the body healthy. However, if the DNA of a cell is damaged or changed, the abnormal cells can multiply and invade other tissues. These cancer cells can spread through the blood and lymph systems to other parts of the body. The extra cells form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor. Cancer is categorized by where the disease begins in the body and not by where it has spread.

  • Carcinoma begins in the skin or tissues that line or cover internal organs.
  • Central nervous system cancers begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.
  • Leukemia starts in blood-forming tissue, such as the bone marrow, and causes abnormal blood cells to be produced.
  • Lymphoma and myeloma begin in the cells of the immune system.
  • Sarcoma begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels or other connective or supportive tissue.
  • Tumors can be malignant or benign. Cells in malignant tumors are abnormal and divide without control or order. They metastasize or spread and destroy the tissue around them. Cancer cells spread through the blood and lymph systems.

Diagnostic Tests

Most cancers are initially recognized either because of the appearance of signs or symptoms or through a screening. If cancer is suspected, your health care provider will schedule tests to confirm a diagnosis.

  • A biopsy is a minimally invasive procedure to remove a sample of cells from tissue or fluid samples from muscle, bone, bone marrow or other organs. The sample is then sent to a pathology lab to check for abnormalities under a microscope.
  • Blood or urine testing is done to learn more about the type of cancer and if it is affecting other parts of the body.
  • Imaging studies such as MRI, PET/CT or X-ray scans are done to show the presence, location and size of an abnormal tumor.

Schedule Screening

The Stages of Cancer

Your health care provider may prescribe further testing to identify the stage of cancer. The stage describes how cancer has affected the body and will determine the course of treatment. Cancer stages are based on the size and location of a tumor (T), if the cancer is in the lymph nodes (N) and whether the cancer is metastic or localized (M). The TNM description of cancer is dependant on the type of cancer diagnosed and is usually defined in grades (G0-G4) and stages (I-IV).  

You have cancer: now what?

You, or someone close to you, is grappling with a life-changing cancer diagnosis and you're now trying to decide what to do with this new information. Life seems to split into before and after. Feeling strong and positive will help you during the healing process, but right now you might find your emotions launched into a roller coaster of worry, saddness or even fear - be kind to yourself and avoid judging yourself for your emotions. Accepting how you feel will help you switch gears and focus on your next steps. 

Get the Facts

First things first, find the best doctor for your diease. The information you're about to digest can be overwhelming, complicated and confusing. Having the right care team will help you feel more in control of your treatment. It's okay to take it one appointment at a time, ask questions and take time to process the answers. 

  • What's the name of my cancer, it's size and loaction, where it started and if it has spread?
  • Is this cancer viewed as slow-growing or aggressive - how much time do I have to make decisions?
  • What are my available treatment options?

Write out a list of questions you want to discuss with your provider beforehand and then be sure to record the answers provided so you can refer back to them at a later date. You may also consider bringing a trusted friend or family member with you to help process the information recieved

Take the time to get a second opinion. If you feel we're the best fit for your treatment, we'll be here when you're ready. 

Yes, there will be a lot of paperwork. From appointment schedules, medical records and test results to the answers to important questions you discuss with your provider.

You'll be provided a patient folder to help keep track of the information you'll receive. Include copies of insurance cards, a list of medications and doses, vitamins and supplements, medical history and a list of the doctors you've seen. You can also utilize your electronic medical records on MyChart. Talk to any member of our staff to help you get access.

You'll find a list of documents to help keep you organized here.

When discussing treatment options with your doctor, understand that treatment is ever evolving. Treatment options vary for each person and each cancer.

At times, observation may be all that's needed. Other cancers are aggressive and may require an equally agressive treatment plan. It's important to discuss what the goals of your treatment are and any potential side effects with your physician.

The internet can be an invaluable resource for information, but it can also be full of mis-information, juice-cleanse cures and alarming statistics. If research and information helps you navigate your diagnosis, visit sites run by medical institutions, non-profits or educational resources - look for sites with .org, .gov and .edu. 

The financial burden of a major illness can be traumatic to your finances. Talk to our financial counselors to discuss insurance and learn about assistance programs. Even if you're financially stable, you may qualify for certain programs. 

Your Team

Everyone could use some extra support during difficult times. It's important for you and your closest caregiver to have a support team to lean on and talk to. 

It can be a family member, a friend or a neighbor. Your advocate can accompany you to treatments, lend an ear, ask questions and speak up for you when you're feeling overwhelmed. Your advocate can be your one go-to person, or a team of friends and family who can take turns keeping you company during treatments and appointments. 

Support groups can be a lifeline for people coping with illnesses of all kinds and at any stage. Even if you have a strong circle of family and friends you can still feel isolated and as though no one truly understands what you're going through. Support groups allow you to disclose as little or as much as you want with those who understand your feelings and struggles on a personal level. 

Make the relationship with your care team a working partnership. What are your treatment goals? Do you want to see your kids graduate from college? Make sure you can still work throughout your treatment? Hike the Rockies?

Our caregivers want to help you reach your goals and keep your priorities in mind as they design your treatment around you. The best treatment relationship is the one where you participate in your care.

Sharing the News

Sometimes sharing the news with those closest to you can be just as difficult as hearing it yourself. You don't need to feel rushed to tell everyone. Take a breath, make sure you have the right diagnosis and the right information and then tell others when you know you're ready.

Telling those closest to you can suddenly make it feel real. If possible, try to have the conversation in person or on a video call. If you want others to keep the news confidential, be sure to clearly ask that of them. You may find those closest to you react with fear of losing you and it can be hard to deal with the fears of others while you're still processing your own emotions. 

If you're a parent, it's natural to want to shield your children from bad news. However, telling them early helps establish trust and lets them know it's safe to discuss. Encourage them to ask questions, let them know how they'll be cared for during this process and convey in simple terms what the treatment plan may look like. 

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, you should be accommodated. People living with cancer often need flexible work hours in order to go to medical appointments. Sometimes, restructuring a job or reducing the number of hours you work may be considered reasonable, especially if you work through treatment or plan to return to the workplace after treatment ends. Even if the environment seems supportive, it might be wise to wait until you have a treatment plan in place so you can provide your employer with concrete details and be prepared to discuss how your treatment may limit your current workload or abilities. Tell HR and your boss first, before your coworkers.

To qualify for ADA protection, you must:

  • Meet the ADA definition of a "disabled person"
  • Qualify for the job and be able to perform it's esstial functions
  • Not pose a risk to your own or other's health and safety
  • Not cause "undue hardship" to your employer for any accommodations you might need 

For more information, call 1.800.514.0301 or visit www.ada.gov.

Posting to social media can help you feel brave and in control of your journey. Keep in mind, you may not have control of the information once it's shared publically. If you'd like the information to remain confidential consider creating a private facebook group or email chain to keep your loved ones in the loop.  

Take Care of Yourself

At some point there will be dishes in the sink and an un mowed lawn - take a nap anyways. Be good to yourself and remember this is a process. We'll help you make tweaks to your nutrition and overall health to help your body heal during treatment.

Your appetite may change, and it may be harder to get restful sleep. Sticking to your diet, sleep and exercise plans as much as possible can help your day-to-day life feel more normal. 

Now is not the time to beat yourself up about the late nights in college or the times you opted for a burger instead of a salad. Focus on what you can control starting today. Show yourself the same care you would show a good friend. 

Once you let people in on your journey, you may hear a lot of "Let me know if I can do anything." Accept now that you won't have time for everything and practice saying yes.

Decide what's most important to you - making your kids' big game? Baking holiday cookies? - and then allow those around you to help with the tasks that aren't as meaningful like returning library books or taking the trash to the curb. You'd be surprised how helpful it makes those around you feel when they can complete a tangible task for you. 

The treatment process is different for everyone and so is the way your body is going to react to those treatments. Listen to your body, pay attention to side affects and learn when you need to rest.

You may not be able to do everything at the same energy level as you could before, so be good to yourself and gentle with your body during treatment. You may need to say no to a few PTO meetings, scale back on volunteer obligations, or not take on extra projects at work so that you can take time to heal.

You've gotten through a long week full of stressful appointments, big medical terms, lots of apologies, hugs and confusion. Take some time to take a breath, hang out with friends, play a round of golf, or go to a movie and laugh. 

Eventually the casserole deliveries will slow and you'll begin to accept this current process. Remember that you and your doctors have a plan, you have your support team and you have us, your care team, with you every step of the way.

Based on a RealSimple article.