How to Deal with a Cancer Diagnosis: One Patient's Journey
When One Medical member Bodil Fox was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2013, she was surprised to receive a call from care coordinator Shawn Casey early on in her journey.
“When you’re diagnosed with cancer, it feels like you’re on a lonely road, even when you have lots of friends around you,” said Fox. “I didn’t ask for Shawn to reach out, then all of a sudden, she was there. Like a gift.”
Shawn Casey is part of One Medical’s Cancer Care Navigation (CCN) team, which creates a safe space for cancer patients to voice their concerns, make informed decisions about their treatment plan, and address everything from clinical issues to insurance questions.
With the support of the CCN team, her husband, daughter, and close friends, Fox has been navigating the terrain of cancer treatment with incredible courage. She shared her story with us in hopes that other patients find strength as she has—by paying attention to their own needs, taking time to talk through their options, and building up their support system.
Learn more in our Q&A with Bodil Fox.
One Medical: Tell us a bit about how you were initially diagnosed.
Bodil Fox: I had a mammogram done every year like clockwork for 30 years, and there were never any problems. Then last fall, they said there was something there, so they wanted to take a sharper image. They saw ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). That was a hard diagnosis to get, but I didn’t fully know what it meant, so I went on the internet to learn more and talked to Angela Powlen, PA-C, my provider at One Medical. She agreed it would most likely require surgery and radiation to determine what I was up against.
In the beginning, there were a lot of conversations with people to figure out what the diagnosis meant, and I was a bit overwhelmed. A lot of the doctors I talked to were very specialized and shared lots of statistics, but they missed the emotional side.
OM: What was unique about the support system provided by the CCN team at One Medical?
BF: Someone was reaching out to me rather than me having to reach out. That was important. I get emotional just thinking about it.
Shawn wasn’t judging me, she was working with me to help me make decisions and come to terms with my emotions. It was very important to have her on my side. Sometimes I had questions about insurance, and she would try to figure that out for me. I had good insurance, but I still ran into obstacles, so I was in need of an advocate. When I called my insurance company, I could not get through, but because she represented a doctor’s office, she could make that connection. It was such a relief.
“It’s nice to have another person that’s not close to you—not your family—but someone you can be very open with and say everything you feel.”
OM: How frequently would Shawn check in with you?
BF: It was never too much or too little. She would check in to say, “I heard you went in for an appointment. Are you OK with what you discussed? Do you know what you want to do next?” She allowed me to talk and made sure I was thinking about the right things and not just running around in circles. She also helped me not beat myself up, since it can feel like you have to know the right answers.
Angela, my PCP at One Medical, has also been wonderful throughout this and has followed me closely. She’s been very supportive all along the way.
OM: How did the CCN team help you cope with the emotional impact of your diagnosis?
BF: Shawn listened to me a lot and advocated for me. She asked me, “What’s good for you now, in the present?” She gave me recommendations for other One Medical providers I could speak with if I wanted to get help managing the stress and emotional aspect of the diagnosis. She also really pushed me to take time off work and take care of myself, and that was so good.
She told me, “I can see you want more time off and you’re hesitant to ask for it, but your health is more important than your job right now.” Hearing that from her helped me ask for what I really wanted. When I did ask, they gave me that time off, and it really helped me heal.
I was so pleased to work with Shawn. I hope other cancer survivors have the opportunity to work with someone like her. It’s very helpful, particularly in an emotional way, so I’m very happy that service was available to me.
OM: How else did you combat the stress and anxiety that came with your diagnosis?
BF: Educating myself so I could better understand what my options where, and talking it through with my husband was very helpful—that helped get the anxiety out of my system. I also did a lot of walking and eating healthier. We live not too far from the water, so we just took some time to walk and think about things.
Most of all, I tried to stay as emotionally strong as possible. I’d say, “This is not going to get me down. It’s something to deal with but it’s not going to take me down.” Going through all of this with a positive attitude was a primary way of not being dragged down by it.
What have you found to be most helpful in dealing with a tough diagnosis—either your own or that of a loved one? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
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