To say a cancer consultation is stressful is putting it mildly. You arrive 15 minutes early for the appointment. You have to dig out your insurance card and an id. You’ve filled out the 5 pages of medical forms that look just like the other forms you filled out at the other doctor’s offices. You’re in no mood now to smile for the identification photograph. Now you’re asked to get in a gown and sit in an exam room for another 20 minutes or more. Feeling out-of-control yet? Well, there really are a few things you can do to help you get the most out of your visits.
1. Be Prepared
Just like a Boy Scout- Be Prepared. More than you can imagine, a lot depends on how well you and your cancer specialist communicate. And talk is a 2 way street. It’s not just telling the doctor what’s wrong and him/her giving you statistics. It’s also your listening to them and the doctor listening to you. Let’s face it. Talk isn’t cheap, and everyone is pressed for time. You have very little time to develop a good working relationship with your doctor. From day one, your preparation will help establish good communication that will carry through all stages of diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
So it’s a good idea to be upfront with your doctor and let him/her know about your other medical conditions, previous surgeries, other cancers and treatment, prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, and herbal supplements. Don’t assume “it’s all there in the record.” Make a list and bring it with you. You may not realize it, but how well you’re handling your diabetes may impact on how well your chemotherapy works on your breast cancer or how well your radiation works on your prostate cancer.
2. The Only Dumb Question Is the One That’s Not Asked
And even more questions come up after the consultation. So write those down so that you can talk with your cancer specialist at the next visit. It often takes time for you to process everything that you have been told. If you still have a lot of questions, rather than calling the office with one at a time, schedule a follow up visit. This way you can have ample time to ask and more importantly, to understand.
A list of questions may be a real help. A consultation with a cancer specialist is always stressful – a thousand things are racing through your mind. That’s why it’s also key to bring a family member or a close friend with you. That person can take notes for you to look at later. They often hear things that you don’t because you are focusing on something else that was said.
3. Not Everyone Learns the Same Way
Communication takes many forms and not everyone learns by reading. Some people do best by watching a video, others by listening. The Internet may be useful, but the information may not always be reliable. If you don’t understand what’s going on, let your cancer specialist or other medical team members know about it right away.
4. Good information gives real power over your cancer.
Poor information not so much. Your neighbor or friend at church may mean well, but it’s really hard to find 2 patients with exactly the same cancer, at exactly the same stage, and exactly the same medical problems. What works for someone else may not work for you. And remember, cancer care is still an art, but there is always a good deal of science.
5. Your Doctor Doesn’t Know It All
I strongly recommend getting to know other members of your cancer care team who are not doctors. Registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, licensed medical assistants, radiation therapists, chemotherapy nurses, and swallowing therapists are also your keys to success in diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. These professional, knowledgeable team members can answer medical questions and help with personal guidance throughout this difficult time.
Not every physician is familiar with every available cancer treatment technique. Your physician may only know about the treatment offered at his facility first hand. An experienced physician will continue to explore any and all treatments available in his/her field of study, but do not assume this is the case. Seek a second opinion from someone outside of their group when possible. I often give second and third opinions. I will help a patient to understand all of their treatment options, not just the ones I offer. My goal as an oncologist is to find the best possible treatment for a patient to beat their cancer. I encourage people to call me anytime for another opinion.