Updated: Mar 15
This one thing will simplify your life and reduce the overwhelm
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After a cancer diagnosis, things easily get forgotten, overlooked, and lost. I know, I've been there. You're suddenly thrown into a whirlwind of appointments, given oddball to-do lists, and are expected to become a world renown expert in "doctor slang" (you know those big flashy words that your oncologist throws out and you have no idea what the heck they are talking about? Yikes.).
Let's face it - everyone needs help when it comes to being diagnosed with cancer. If I could be there with you to keep track of medicines, appointments, and words-to-google-later, trust me I would be. But, since I'm not able to be by your side here in this post you will find the next best thing to help you keep track of the important things. And honestly, this is probably better than I ever could be. My past record kind of shows me as a mess in dire circumstances...more on that later.
My sister was the brilliant one to realize that I needed a designated place to keep all my notes, dates, and everything in between. She came to my first oncology appointment with a notebook under her arm. I honestly underestimated how useful it would be, but wow was I wrong. But since then, I've located something even better than my trusty notebook (as much as I loved that thing). Something designed specifically for cancer patients to help ease the stress of the overwhelming to-do's while fighting cancer.
And here it is: The most helpful tool I have found to help during any cancer battle is a Cancer Planner. You may be thinking that seems a tad simplistic but let me explain with three ways it can be useful for you too.
With a specific spot to write down all those questions that are keeping you up at night (along with designated areas for the answers) it serves as a great place to keep all your thoughts in one place. Even if you think you will for sure remember to ask what stage of cancer it is (I mean that's a pretty important question right? Who would forget that? Me. I forgot that), trust me, when you arrive to your oncologist's appointment you're going to be in an information overload and there simply isn't enough time to process everything. With this, you can jot it down and come back to it later - just as long as it's written down you can consider it in a safe place. I find that it's less stress to just know you have something written down, one less thing to worry about. And that's my goal here, to lighten your load.
This specific planner also has a symptom tracker that's designed specifically to help you keep track of what's going on with your body; so that you can take it to your oncology appointment to show your oncologist. That is brilliant if you ask me. I know I thought I would remember the fact that I had heart palpitations 2 out of 7 days that week, but when it came time to tell my oncologist, it would completely slip my mind with all of the commotion/stress/anxiety going on during the appointment. Having the tracker helps take that pressure off of your shoulders.
Tip: If at all possible, put the planner in your car the night before, in your purse, under your keys, or even on the toilet...somewhere it would be nearly impossible to forget. And if you do somehow manage to forget the planner at home (cough cough, me again). Don't worry, just ask the nurse for some scrap paper to staple into your planner later. Remember, don't stress the small stuff at this point you can always fill it in later just this once (or twice...). But keeping all the information all in one spot is a stress relief in itself.
Ideally, it is best to have someone with you to write in the planner at the actual appointment. If you've already read my book, A Cancer Made Mess, you already know that my sister was in charge of the note taking during appointments. It ended up being one of the most important roles that someone took on for me.
You're going to be in overwhelm x 10 (just a heads up - doc appointments are rough, tips on handling those here - (Join the newsletter to be notified when this post goes live). So, it's nice to have someone shoulder some of the responsibility. Remember though, your family or friend is also stressed out and worried; so it's best to give them a heads up ahead of time rather than just shoving it in their hands in the waiting room. If they agree to the task specifically ask them to write down every detail they can get from the appointment paying special attention to when the oncologist throws out all the medical jargon (those can be Googled later if you don't get the chance to ask in person).
At the end of the day, try to be understanding that not everything will get written down, the note taker is human, and a stressed out human at that. But at least if you have someone writing down as much as they can which will lessen the confusion later. And there will be confusion later. Each person will take away a slightly different version of the dialogue. You will be asking each other later "Did he say chemo and then radiation or vice versa?" "Did you catch the word he used for the procedure for the lymph nodes?" "What were the names of the chemo's again?" Just having things written down gives you all a base to go off of.
Oh and you might be surprised at who else uses the planner as well. My oncologist even used the notebook to make sketches which helped explain complicated procedures and surgeries. He even once just took the pen and wrote down some of the cancer terms for me so that I could have them as a reference later.
TIP: Don't forget to write your next appointment date down before leaving the office!
I know this one isn't going to sound so "productive" here, but I actually think it is possibly the most important role the planner can play.
Whether you really want to or not, you need to start processing what is happening to you...emotionally and mentally. A good way to do that is to journal. There is a section in the back for journal as well as a wonderful section that actually helps you deal with emotional/mental aspects. USE BOTH.
Denial is not a good stage to stay in, and this is coming from the queen of denial guys. I stayed in denial way too long (Join the newsletter to be notified when this post goes live). Don't wait until your hair is falling out in clumps onto the bathroom floor to start processing some emotions.
Granted, journaling isn't going to completely heal you emotionally when you do it now at this stage. A lot of healing will come after you are done with treatments during life after cancer when you are out of the "survival mode." However it is still very important to start now to avoid a complete melt down like I had. One of my tips to help avoid a complete melt down (Join the newsletter to be notified when this post goes live) is to use that planner's back section as a journal, and do it early on.
The journal portion of the planner is a safe place to be yourself. No judgement, no thought is wrong, no worry too scary. Each emotion is a normal part of the process. You are free to feel every single one of those feelings you are feeling. And each one of those feelings is okay to have. Expected actually. Even the dark ones you don't think are okay, they really are. And, it's important to let them out in a healthy manner. You can read more about how I used a journal to help process my emotions here (Join the newsletter to be notified when this post goes live).
Plus, having the journal will give you something to look back on after it is all said and done, something that will actually aid your healing later. You can look back at those horrible scary thoughts you had and see how far you really have come. How much of a survivor you truly are.
One more thing...
Getting the planner might seem like a medial task right now, however, I promise it will simplify your life. It will save you the hassle of trying to remember your next appointment and keep all of your cancer related information all in one place.
Truly, cancer is hard enough. Worrying about things that can be easily kept track of by using something as simple as a planner is a waste of needed energy in my opinion. Any planner would be better than nothing. But what is nice about this particular planner is that it is designed specifically for cancer patients. It's meant to really help alleviate some stress while keeping track of what needs tracking. It's sturdy enough to last the cancer journey and comes with tips for going through treatment, a monthly planner, daily reminders, positive affirmations, along with inner pockets to hold extra notes, a pen holder pouch, and detailed sections that are truly meant to help where it's needed most.
If you're looking for more items that might be helpful to your cancer journey, you'll want to go here to find my list called "CANCER PATIENT MUST HAVES".
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