Finding a Cancer Treatment Center.

Cancer is a terrifying diagnosis.  Even when everything is going to be fine, it doesn’t feel like that in the beginning.  Finding a cancer treatment center is the first order of business.

How do you even begin tackling this?  Where do you start? There are no easy answers.  Every situation and scenario is different and the initial stages after a diagnosis is just a (long, really stressful) phase of data collection.

Finding a cancer treatement center is the first step in getting the best care for a cancer diagnosis.  This guide will walk you through step by step and help you prepare for those difficult conversations.  Tackling all the layers of cancer is the key.

That phase is the time when they are looking to see what you’re dealing with so they know how to treat it…

This stage includes things like…

  • CT Scans
  • MRI’s
  • Blood tests
  • Biopsies

By collecting as much data as possible, the doctors will be able to develop a personalized plan to ensure that you receive the best possible treatment based on your scenario.  Each case, each cancer and each person is different.

Here’s the reality, Cancer is a really big deal.  You need to find a cancer treatment center, and you want the absolute best treatment possible, so you have the best chance of kicking this things ass. 

This is the first post in our Tackling All the Layers Of Cancer Series, designed to walk you through everything you need to now when cancer explodes into your family. If you want the complete series in one document (it’s free) you can grab that here…

How to Choose a Cancer Treatment Center

There are a lot of options when it comes to cancer treatment.

We’ve never chosen a doctor, but we have chosen a cancer treatment center.  And after a thorough review of our case by a qualified professional, they gave us the doctor that best fit our needs.

It may be easier to seek treatment through a local oncologist, but I strongly urge you to consider contacting a specialized cancer treatment center at least for a 2nd opinion.  

Note:  They may tell you that they would execute the same plan that your local oncologist has outlined and then you can go follow the plan locally but have that additional confidence that the plan is a stellar one.

We used Memorial Sloan Kettering, in New York City, but there are TONS of others. 

Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America, several locations.

John Hopkins Cancer Center, Washington D.C

Duke Cancer Center, North Carolina

Roswell Park Cancer Institute, New York 

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas

The Mayo Clinic, several locations

Cleveland Clinic, Ohio

Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Illinois

City Of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, California

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, California

Seattle Cancer Alliance/University of Washington Medical Center, Washington

Siteman Cancer Center, Missouri

You can see a full list of the best cancer treatment centers in the US here…

If you don’t live in the U.S. the following were rated as some of the best cancer treatment centers in the world.

Oceania Oncology, Australia

Oslo Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Norway

Vall D’Hebron Institute of Oncology, Spain

Institute Gustave Roussy, France

Hong Kong Adventist Hospital, China

Apollo Hospitals, India

Netherlands Cancer Institute, Netherlands

Spanish National Cancer Research Center, Spain

Christie Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, United Kingdom

Princess Margaret Cancer Centre University Health Network, Canada

MacArthur Cancer Service, Australia

You can find some of the best rated cancer treatment centers in the world here…

I think the best way to sum up the treatment at a specialized cancer treatment center is to give you a few specifics about our situation.

We live in upstate New York and until cancer dropped into our world spent very little time in New York City. 

A specialized cancer treatment center (Memorial Sloan Kettering) gave us…

Specialized Treatment Teams

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists, pain management… people who specialized in my dad’s cancer (Small Cell Lung Cancer). 

As we developed complications throughout our journey (like when he lost his hearing and his eyesight in one eye due to a rare syndrome) our team expanded with Neurologists, Speech and Hearing Rehabilitation, and Ophthalmology all provided within the Sloan system. 

Meaning they were able to deal with the cancer AND help us deal with all of the other neurological crap we had going on.  Because of them, we were able to deal with all of the things that were happening effectively and in one place. 

Which made it easier for everyone to stay on the same page.     

Specialized Doctors

Dr. Cha, my husband’s doctor at Sloan told us the first day he met us “this is what we do.  I have a team of people and we spend all day, every day dealing with your type of cancer.”

Rather than knowing a little bit about a lot of things, these guys and gals stay in their lane.  They deal with their specialty and if you need something different, they get you in touch with someone who is specialized in the area of your need. 

They don’t make guesses or try to deal with things that are outside of their realm. 

That’s the kind of specialization you want with cancer.  You want the most experienced, qualified person in the room calling the shots.


Specialized cancer treatment centers are usually located in a major city.  They see THOUSANDS of people per day. 

Our local place doesn’t treat nearly the amount of people that Sloan does.

So, when weird symptoms started to pop up (and we had a lot of weird symptoms!) they had a different level of experience with those symptoms that our local doctor didn’t have because of the sheer volume of people they are dealing with every single day.

That made a huge difference in our comfort level and in our ability to fight this thing. 

Time Management

They work hard to make things as easy as possible for us.  Sloan made accommodations for us and fit appointments into the same day, so we didn’t have to keep driving back and forth. 

If we needed something additional, they tried to schedule it before we left, so we wouldn’t have to come back.

They also offered appointments in one of their offices that were closer to us (outside the city) when that was possible.  For example, if you didn’t need to meet with your doctor specifically, treatment could be done almost an hour closer to home.  

Little things like that make a huge difference.

Clinical Trials

A specialized cancer treatment center may be able to offer a clinical trial. These are a huge deal, because clinical trials are research and testing that are helping to make new and better treatments that fight this thing possible.  

Immunotherapy was just coming out as a legitimate treatment option (because of a clinical trial) right when we needed it!  Sloan felt that treatment could be given closer to our home so we wouldn’t have to travel so much, but it wasn’t available as a treatment at our local office until much later.

That treatment allowed my father a lot of extra time that we wouldn’t have had without it.  All I kept thinking during that time was that we wouldn’t have even known Immunotherapy was an option for us if we hadn’t gone to Sloan. 

This is the first post in our Tackling All the Layers Of Cancer Series, designed to walk you through everything you need to now when cancer explodes into your family. If you want the complete series in one document (it’s free) you can grab that here…

Conversations With The Doctor

Discussions with your doctor, especially before there is an actual plan can be really emotional and unsettling.

No matter how strong you are, this will knock you right down to the ground.  It’s traumatizing and everything is happening so fast, that you barely have time to breathe.

Thinking ahead about how to deal with some of this stuff before it comes helped us get through a few sticky situations.

The conversations with your Oncologist are long, emotionally charged and totally overwhelming.

And, as you’re sitting there trying to process everything and figure out how the hell you are going to deal with this… there is information and directions flying at you from every angle.

Let’s be honest, you can’t really hear any of that. 

All of that important stuff is just a bunch of “noise” trying to overpower the horrific thoughts that are running through your head. 

 I’ve been there.  You’re trying to listen, but the fear takes over.  And it doesn’t get any better after the diagnosis.

I’ve come to realize this is what cancer is… 

Some of the most terrifying conversations you’ve ever had in your life constantly running through your head and becoming even more horrific as the fear and your mind work together to manipulate your perception of what’s actually happening.

Don’t Forget to Breathe.

I wish I could remember in those moments when the whole world is falling down around me…

To close my eyes and take a deep breath.

That one little action gives you a 2-second time frame to pause and just enough of a “break” to recalculate.

A huge (and unfortunate part) of an Oncologists job is to deliver heartbreaking news to people, so they will totally understand if you need a minute (or 10!) to collect yourself.

Take it.  Take that minute to breathe and collect yourself as much as you can.

Find Some Perspective

Try to focus on what’s actually happening NOT what your panicked mind is telling you could happen.  I’m not saying the situation is good, but you have survived a thousand challenges in your life, and this is just one more being thrown at you.

While doctors can give you estimated time frames for how much time your loved one has left, or statistics for their chances of beating this based on the history of other people…

 God is the only one who knows what is actually going to happen here. 

The doctors can make an educated guess, but it should not be taken as gospel.

My dad was given “days to weeks” as a life expectancy and we fought the battle for 21 months.

HE made the decision to stop treatment after some pretty serious complications arose, so there is no telling how much longer we would have been able to keep going.

Regardless, it was a lot longer than “expected.”

Don’t panic and don’t give up because no one, except God can actually know what’s going to happen here.

Bring in someone else who can listen

As strange as it sounds, it is almost impossible for you to hear anything important after the “bomb” has dropped into the room.

“The cancer is spreading”, “treatment is not working”, “emergency blood levels”…

I am an excellent caregiver, but  I can remember appointments where I swear, my anxiety was off the charts and I totally shut down and didn’t hear anything at all. 

Bringing someone to help you listen is another good strategy for getting through.

Cancer involves life-altering discussions that are amplified by panic and fear and are so stressful (and emotional) that your ability to actively listen pretty much flies out the window. 

And it is SO important that you have the right information, options, and next steps.

Bring someone you trust to listen.  Someone who is involved but not as close to the situation as you are who can help you get the information you need.

Someone who can…

  • Provide an extra set of ears.
  • Take notes.
  • Ask questions.
  • Clarify information.

Having another set of ears at any appointment (because you never actually know when the bad news is coming) is just one more protective measure you can put into place to make sure that your loved one is getting the best possible treatment.

Don’t Make ANY Major Decisions Until You Have All the Facts

The initial shock is a terrible time for ANYONE to make any major decisions. You’re running solely on emotion and adrenaline and this is a good time to just breathe and get through the moment.

We had an awful situation where my dad decided to stop treatment (and I cried for a week) after one of these conversations.  You can read the full story here, but the bottom line is we completely jumped the gun!

I’m not saying things are good, but they might not be as bad as you think.

Until you have had a long and thorough discussion (where you can focus and listen) with the doctor about…

  • The current status
  • Treatment and options
  • Recommendations
  • Additional consultations
  • A plan

Then you should not make any permanent decisions.

What you should do is, focus on how to deal with information you have now and focus on taking steps forward (even if they are baby steps.

 Make Another Appointment As Soon As Possible

Some appointments are so emotionally charged, that you need to schedule another time to meet with the doctor.  This gives you a chance to make better decisions with all of the facts and a much clearer head.

This appointment will be the time to ask and clarify any questions such as…

  • What is the best course of action?
  • How optimistic are you that this is going to work?
  • What does this look like 6 months from now?
  • A year from now?
  • What are the next steps?
  • Are there any clinical trials that we would be a candidate for?
  • What is the recommended plan?

This is one of the most stressful points of this whole journey.  There is no right way to get through this situation.  But, it definitely helps to plan ahead and be prepared just in case the news isn’t what you were hoping for…

This is the first post in our Tackling All the Layers Of Cancer Series, designed to walk you through everything you need to now when cancer explodes into your family. If you want the complete series in one document (it’s free) you can grab that here…

2nd Opinion

This is cancer, and when things start getting out of control, it’s really difficult to turn back, so you want to always be trying to head in the right direction.

You should always get a 2nd opinion. 

And we, of course, would recommend that your case be looked out by a specialized cancer treatment center.  So, even if you can’t or choose not to do treatment there, you at least have their best recommendations of how to proceed. 

Who knows, they may recommend the exact same treatment as your local oncologist, then you’ll have the peace of mind to know that you took those extra steps and you’re getting the best treatment locally.  And if the recommendations are drastically different, then you’ll have to consider the best decision for your situation.  

P.S. This is the first post in our Tackling All the Layers Of Cancer Series, designed to walk you through everything you need to know when cancer explodes into your family. If you want the complete series in one document (it’s free) you can grab that here…

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