Patients shut out facts when diagnosed with cancer

Picture  Christopher Furlong                                         'Cancer sufferer and campaignerMargaret Bryan in her home at kilbarchan.'Furlong
Picture Christopher Furlong 'Cancer sufferer and campaignerMargaret Bryan in her home at kilbarchan.'Furlong

PATIENTS only remember a quarter of what they’re told when diagnosed with cancer, research has found. And this can significantly affect their outcome if they fail to understand the choices available to them.

Every two minutes someone in the UK is told they have cancer and with the average person only being able to recall about a quarter of that diagnosis there is a greater need than ever to help clarify what this diagnosis means.

Often when receiving this news patients go into shock and find it difficult to fully understand the diagnosis, treatment plan or what choices are available to them.

Research indicates that people on being told they have cancer will be able to remember as little as 25 per cent, but the way in which that diagnosis is understood can significantly affect the patient’s outcome.

The theme of this year’s World Cancer Day on Monday (February 4) is about demystifying cancer and Maggie’s Centres is highlighting advice on how to cope at the point of diagnosis.

Staff at Maggie’s Centres regularly see people who have just received a diagnosis and are experienced in providing practical and emotional support.

Laura Lee, chief executive officer of Maggie’s, explained: “People often visit Maggie’s shortly after being told they have cancer. At this point they find it difficult to know where to turn or what to do.

“At the point a consultant or oncologist mentions cancer many people go into shock and simply stop listening. Many still believe that cancer means an automatic death sentence and we need to work harder to make that less of an assumption in society.

“It means that, very understandably, many people just don’t take in the options available to them and that can affect both the way they cope with the diagnosis both physically and mentally.’

Centre head Lesley Howells added: “At Maggie’s we can help them to formulate questions and start to really understand and break down the information they have been given. Crucially we can give people with cancer the tools to take back control of their diagnosis and start to talk about and explore what support is available.

“People can drop in and talk to an expert for information about their diagnosis or just come in and have a cup of tea and talk to other people in a similar situation. We also run courses on Living with Cancer and Caring for Someone with Cancer on top of the practical, emotional and social support we offer.

“After seeing us our centre visitors tell us they feel lighter, clearer and can breathe again.”

Maggie’s offer the following advice.

] Take someone with you - not only for moral support but also to help remember what is being said by the medical team and to ask questions.

] Record the meeting - ask if you can record the meeting on a dictaphone or a mobile phone.

] Write everything down in a book - include the name of your doctor and medical team, your thoughts and fears, your treatment plan and what’s worrying you.

] Get the facts - if you can, find out as many of the basics as you can about your cancer diagnosis from your doctor, such as the type of cancer, where it is, if it has spread and how the cancer will be treated.

] Communication - keep up open and honest communication with your loved ones, doctors and others after your cancer diagnosis.

] Talk to other people with cancer - often people find it is only those who have experienced a cancer diagnosis who will fully understand how you’re feeling. Many people find this kind of support at their local Maggie’s Centre.

] Find your own ways of coping - in the aftermath of a diagnosis discovering your own coping mechanisms is essential. You may wish to spend some time alone, practice relaxation techniques, speak to a counsellor, take long walks or keep a journal.

] Work out your priorities - try to determine what’s truly important in your life and focus more of your time and energy on that.