A diagnosis of merkel cell carcinoma can leave you and your loved ones feeling uncertain, anxious and overwhelmed. There are important treatment decisions to make, emotional concerns to manage, and insurance and financial paperwork to organize, among other practical concerns.
It is helpful to keep in mind that there are many sources of information and support for people coping with merkel cell carcinoma. By learning about this diagnosis and its treatment options, communicating with your health care team, and surrounding yourself with a support network, you will be better able to manage your merkel cell carcinoma and experience a better quality of life.
Understanding Your Diagnosis and Treatment Plan
Merkel cell carcinoma (also known as neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin) occurs when the cells found in the skin begin to change and grow uncontrollably, which can be either cancerous or benign.
There are a wide range of treatments for merkel cell carcinoma, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. If treatment is necessary, ask your health care team to recommend reliable publications and websites to learn more. Knowing what to expect can help you feel more in control.
The Importance of Communicating With Your Health Care Team
Because merkel cell carcinoma is a complex condition with complex treatment options, good communication between you and your health care team is key. Your oncologist, nurses, and other members of your health care team work together to treat your merkel cell carcinoma. Since medical appointments are the main time you will interact with your team, being as prepared as possible for these visits is important. It will help ensure that you understand your diagnosis and treatment, get answers to your questions, and feel more satisfied with your overall care. Read CancerCare’s fact sheet, “Doctor, Can We Talk?’: Tips for Communicating With Your Health Care Team,” to learn how you can communicate more effectively with your heath care team.
While merkel cell carcinoma can present many challenges, keep in mind that you do not need to cope with this diagnosis on your own. Your friends and family are important sources of strength and support. There are also many local and national support services available to assist you.
Financial Assistance There are many organizations that provide help with medical billing, insurance coverage, and reimbursement issues. There is also financial assistance available to help people who cannot afford the cost of their medications. Good places to start your research are the websites of the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition (www.cancerfac.org) and the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (www.pparx.org).
CancerCare’s fact sheet, “Sources of Financial Assistance,” provides more information about seeking financial help. Another resource is CancerCare’s A Helping Hand (www.cancercare.org/helpinghand). This is a searchable, online database of financial and practical assistance available for people with cancer. This comprehensive online tool features up-to-date contact information and descriptions for hundreds of national and regional organizations offering financial help to people with cancer. You can search by diagnosis, zip code and type of assistance.
Benefits and Entitlements
Local and county government agencies can give you information on Social Security, state disability, Medicaid, income maintenance, the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and food stamps. Check your local phone directory for listings.
The Hope Lodge of the American Cancer Society, the National Association of Hospital Hospitality Houses (www.nahhh.org), and other organizations provide temporary lodging for families of a patient who needs to travel far from their home for treatment. Joe’s House is a nonprofit organization that offers an online database with lodging information near cancer treatment centers across the U.S. To learn more, visit www.joeshouse.org.
Getting Emotional Support
Adjusting to and finding ways to cope with a merkel cell carcinoma diagnosis is an important part of healing, along with treatment. There are many organizations, such as CancerCare, that provide support services to help people affected by cancer. Individual counseling is available to help you learn ways to cope with the emotions and challenges raised by your diagnosis. Support groups can connect you with others in a similar situation in a safe, supportive environment.Cancer affects the whole person and their loved ones, so it’s important to create a support network as part of managing your care.