OHSU Knight Cancer Institute

You’ve Just Been Diagnosed with Cancer

A social worker listens to a person with cancer talk about their experience. She looks empathetic and understanding. The mood is optimistic.
Cancer is a roller coaster. Oncology social worker Andrea Lehman has years of experience helping people deal with the issues that come along with a cancer diagnosis.

You are not alone

We know that learning you have cancer can be devastating. You may feel a surge of emotions. You have other things going on in your life. You weren’t expecting this.

We’re here for you.

Our calling is to take care of you as a patient and a person. Our team includes some of the most experienced doctors in the world, backed by the latest research. They’ll use their expertise to plan the best course of treatment using some of the most advanced technology available.

Navigating the system

The health care system can be confusing. At OHSU, you have partners to help you find your way. Nurse navigators (also called nurse coordinators) can:

  • Answer questions.
  • Explain next steps.
  • Set up appointments so you make fewer trips.
  • Help you understand your disease.
  • Help you understand your treatment.

In most of our clinics, a nurse navigator will call you before your first appointment. In our community clinics, they will meet you at your first visit with your doctor.

Not every patient is assigned to a nurse navigator. Some clinics use a different system. But you will always have a partner to help you find your way.

Getting ready for your first appointment

  • Check the location for your appointment. Here’s a guide to getting around OHSU.
  • Sign up for MyChart, our secure online patient portal. Use MyChart to exchange messages with your care team, see test results, and manage appointments and prescriptions.
  • Bring a family member or friend if you can. Sometimes it’s hard to absorb information on your own. It helps to have someone there to provide support and take notes.
  • Considering keeping a notebook for appointments and questions.

Talking with your care team

Your care team will answer your questions and talk with you about your concerns and wishes. It helps to prepare. Questions you might consider include:

  • What type of cancer do I have? This may sound simple, but sometimes it isn’t. Some cancers have many types, each with a different course of treatment.
  • What stage is it? The stage of your cancer has a big impact on your treatment and outcome. You can ask what your cancer’s stage means for you.
  • What are my chances? This question is in the back of every patient’s mind. The type and stage of your cancer play a big role, but other factors matter, too.
  • What are my next steps? You may need tests before you begin treatment. You can ask your doctor about your timeline.

What does your cancer journey look like?

Every patient is different. But most patients follow a cancer journey that looks something like this:

  • Signs and symptoms: Maybe a scan shows something unusual. Your doctor thinks it is cancer and refers you to the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.
  • Diagnosis: Accurate diagnosis is the key to effective treatment. We need to find out as much as we can about the exact type and stage of your cancer. We may do blood tests, scans or a biopsy (where we take a small tissue sample).
  • Treatment plan: Your treatment depends on your diagnosis and your needs. You and your team decide on a treatment plan and set up a schedule.
  • Treatment: You may have several types of therapy, such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Your treatment may range from a single day to months or years. You may be a candidate for a clinical trial to try a promising new treatment.
  • Recovery: During and after treatment, you may need physical therapy, nutrition support or other services to help you recover strength.
  • Survivorship: Our goal is to cure or control your cancer so you can get back to living your life. If this isn’t possible, we work to ease your symptoms and extend your life.

No matter how your journey unfolds, we are here to support you through the whole journey.

What is a survival rate?

Cancer survival is measured in something called a five-year relative survival rate. It measures the number of people who live five years after a cancer diagnosis compared with the general population.

For example, the five-year relative survival rate for people with stage 2 kidney cancer is 75%. That means, on average, 75 out of 100 people with stage 2 kidney cancer live at least five years after they were first diagnosed.

Infographic of 100 stick figures representing 100 people with cancer. 75 are colored blue; 9 are colored gray.
The five-year relative survival rate is a key concept in understanding cancer statistics. This infographic shows that 75 out of 100 people with stage 2 kidney cancer are expected to survive at least five years after they were first diagnosed. Survivors are shown in green; others in gray. Source: National Cancer Institute SEER data 2014–2020.

It’s important to know that survival rates are averages. Everyone is different.

What are your goals?

Sometimes cancer can be cured. Sometimes it can’t. But that doesn’t mean giving up. Many people live with cancer for years or decades. You may want to talk to your doctor about your goals for treatment. Is it to improve your quality of life? To reach a milestone, such as seeing a grandchild graduate from college? Your care team will strive to meet your goals.

Where can you find good information?

This video by ASCO has good suggestions for finding accurate information about cancer.

Videos from the American Society of Clinical Oncology are a great place to start. You can start with the collection on Cancer Basics.

Where can you get support?

Cancer brings up a lot of practical issues. How will you get to OHSU? Where will you stay if you’re from out of town? How do you handle family conflicts? OHSU offers support services for patients and families that can help you cope with all this and more.

How will you pay for care?

We know a lot of patients worry about finances. We have financial counselors who specialize in helping people with cancer. They can help you:

  • Figure out what your health insurance will pay for treatment.
  • Find ways to pay if you don’t have insurance.
  • Find ways to pay other than insurance.

To learn more, please call 503-494-6842 or email oncfc@ohsu.edu.

Meet your care team

At OHSU, a team of specialists will work together to care for you. Your team may include:

  • Nurse navigators or nurse coordinators to guide you through treatment.
  • Medical oncologists, who specialize in chemotherapy.
  • Surgical oncologists, who specialize in cancer surgery.
  • Radiation oncologists, who specialize in radiation therapy.
  • Palliative care specialists to help you deal with symptoms like pain, nausea, weight loss and anxiety.
  • Physical therapists to help you regain strength and flexibility. They can also help with mobility, speech and other issues.
  • Dietitians to help with nutrition, eating and digestion.
  • Social workers to help connect you to services and resources like transportation and lodging. They can also help you deal with emotional issues like family conflicts.

For patients

Call 503-494-7999 to:

  • Request an appointment
  • Seek a second opinion
  • Ask questions

Refer a patient

Kids and teens

The logo for OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital.