5 Suggestions To Ease Your Cancer Journey From a Lymphoma Advocate | MyLymphomaTeam

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5 Suggestions To Ease Your Cancer Journey From a Lymphoma Advocate

Posted on May 6, 2024

No one knows what it’s like to have cancer unless they’ve actually been through it. Lou Lanza is a two-time cancer survivor and advocate. He understands life with cancer, from the troubling symptoms to the lengthy diagnostic process and undergoing various treatments — the mental, emotional, and social impact of it all.

The 2024 Pharma USA conference in Philadelphia was filled with people working within and alongside the pharmaceutical industry. However, it was also attended by patients and patient advocates like Lanza. An editor from MyHealthTeam had the chance to sit down with Lanza and talk to him about his experience.

From this conversation emerged advice and words of support for people with cancer and their loved ones. We’ve condensed this chat into five takeaways. Whether you or a loved one are going through cancer, we hope you can find inspiration and solace from these tips.

1. Get Familiar With Your Health Insurance

Whether you’re newly diagnosed or undergoing treatment, understanding your health insurance will be greatly beneficial along your cancer care journey. A component of living with cancer that isn’t talked about often is the financial aspect.

If you’re undergoing treatment for cancer, working with your health insurance company and affording care is the last thing you want to have to stress about. Understanding health insurance benefits and common terms, which specialists are in or out of your network, and the extent of your coverage for cancer care will help you navigate paying for your cancer treatment.

Lanza spoke about how he is fortunate to have a good health insurance plan. If you don’t have a good health care plan or don’t understand what your plan covers, reach out for support. Ask a partner, family member, or friend to help you make sense of your health insurance. The American Cancer Society emphasizes the importance of health insurance during cancer treatment and offers phone support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

2. Thank Your Helpers

Any single person cannot navigate a cancer diagnosis alone. You’re going to have helpers. Thanking and expressing gratitude to your helpers can go beyond affirming the value of their help. It may improve your well-being too.

Lanza spoke about thanking the doctors, oncology nurses, and interns at the cancer center and hospital where he received treatment. He also showed gratitude to his wife, family, and friends. “One of the joys I get is thanking the caregivers,” he said.

While it seems like a small gesture, studies have found that expressing gratitude can improve your mood, among other health benefits. “Each one of them came back and thanked me for thanking them,” Lanza said.

3. Share Your Story

Once you’re in a place where you feel capable, sharing your story and getting involved in cancer advocacy may help you feel better about your experience. Lanza has volunteered with countless nonprofits and organizations to help others going through cancer.

He goes to Washington D.C. several times a year to help get bills passed on behalf of cancer patients. He’s a part of his National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship local action team and citizen political action team, and he advocates with the American Association for Cancer Research to raise money for cancer research.

Lou Lanza on a trip to Washington to advocate for funding for cancer research. (Lou Lanza)

You don’t need to make advocating for cancer research your life’s work for it to bring meaning to your life. Getting involved and sharing your story at any level, big or small, may bring you some ease along your journey. It can help you feel seen and heard in your experience, and it can help others in similar situations.

4. Ask About Support Programs

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with cancer, ask your health care providers whether they have support services or buddy systems for people with cancer. Lanza talked about participating in a support program through the hospital where he received treatment.

You may be the one who needs support at first. Later on, you could elect to be a buddy to people going through what you went through. “Anybody that gets newly diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s, I talk to them,” said Lanza of the buddy program he participates in.

Buddy systems may be offered through your hospital or other nonprofit organizations. If you’re in survivorship, you can volunteer with these programs. Volunteering with a support group can not only help other people with cancer, but it can also benefit your mood knowing you’re helping others through a difficult time.

When asked what he wished he had known when first diagnosed with cancer, Lanza commented on the unexpected gifts this journey would give him. “The amount of people I’ve had an impact on — it’s amazing,” said Lanza.

5. Look for the Silver Linings

When you’re sick, it’s hard to remain optimistic. Cancer is a scary, life-altering diagnosis, and it can be difficult to find any meaning in the experience. As a survivor, Lanza shared various blessings that came from his experience with cancer. It helped him better connect with his community and become a source of support for others with cancer. It brought his family closer together.

While silver linings or reasons to remain optimistic might not be clear at the time of diagnosis or while you’re receiving cancer treatments, it’s important to stay hopeful. The silver linings might become apparent in hindsight. Studies have even found optimism to be connected to lower levels of cancer pain, which led to healthier coping techniques and increased quality of life.

You’re Not Alone

MyLymphomaTeam is the social network for people with lymphoma and their loved ones. Here, over 18,000 people with lymphoma come together to share their experiences. On MyLymphomaTeam you can ask questions, share tips, and spark conversations with other people who understand life with lymphoma.

Do you have lymphoma? What has your diagnosis and treatment journey been like? Share your thoughts in the comments, or start a conversation on your Activities page.

Posted on May 6, 2024
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Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H. is an Associate Editor at MyHealthTeam. She holds a Master's in Public Health from Columbia University and is passionate about spreading accurate, evidence-based health information. Learn more about her here.

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