Dr. Mojola Omole, Surgical Oncologist with the Scarborough Health Network, finds that for many of her patients talking with their friends, family, and loved ones about cancer is difficult. Whether it is feelings of sadness, shame, or frustration, sharing the news of a diagnosis can be just as onerous as being diagnosed. Dr. Omole’s advice? Be at peace with yourself first.
Understandably, “hearing [some variation of] ‘oh my God you’re going to die’ is hard”, says Dr. Omole. From their experience, treating thousands of people each year, Dr. Omole suggests cancer should be regarded the same as heart attacks or diabetes—it’s a part of life. “Some people pass away immediately, but many live until old age. The same is true for cancer, it can be manageable for most people” says Dr. Omole.
Part of making it a ‘part of life’ is framing it as a chronic disease rather than a death sentence. Dr. Omole further states that “what is portrayed to us is always later stages of the disease. It’s ‘so and so passed away’, but no one ever talks about surviving and living with cancer.” If we regard cancer as a big, scary, monster then it can make us fearful; if we look at cancer like we look at other chronic conditions, we can tackle it the same way.
In line with this reframing is understanding how to advocate for yourself at your appointments. Know first and foremost that you are deserving of care and to be heard and have your questions answered. From Dr. Omole’s experience, “racialized women tend to shrink when they’re with physicians. [The Doctor] may be an expert in cancer, but you’re an expert in yourself—so let’s work together to get a treatment plan that works for you.”
Additionally, a patient can advocate for themselves by writing down their questions and bringing someone else to appointments as an extra set of eyes and ears—whether that is in-person or virtually. If you feel like you are not being heard, address that and let your support system and care team know—you can also request your physician make a note of anything in your chart as well. Furthermore, Dr. Omole suggests patients write notes during or immediately after their appointment, so you don’t feel as overwhelmed trying to remember or understand everything during appointments.
Dr. Omole’s sage advice for people who are diagnosed with cancer is this: you already have everything you need to go through cancer and get through it. We do difficult things every day to protect ourselves, it’s just a part of our genetic makeup. Whether using your voice to advocate for yourself, reframing how you choose to look at your diagnosis or finding peace with your diagnosis—these things go a long way on the road to recovery.