Working with your healthcare team
When facing choices that affect your future, it’s challenging. Here’s how to make those decisions less daunting.
During your exam
- Put the focus on clarity. Your doctor will present the treatment options that are most relevant to you. If you don’t understand something, simply say, “I don’t understand.” If you’re still uncertain, repeat the information in your own words. If you think looking at scans or X-rays will help, say, “Please show me on my scan… .”
- Have a friend help you. Ask a friend to come along and help you take notes so you don’t miss anything your doctor says. Then, when you get home, review each option thoroughly.
- Don’t compare your case to other cases. No two cases of cancer are the same. Another person with the same diagnosis may have an entirely different treatment plan.
Following your visit
- Do I feel comfortable with my doctor? You should feel your doctor is competent and caring.
- Do I have all the info I need? If you are having trouble making a decision, odds are you don’t. Don’t be afraid to ask more questions or seek a second opinion.
- What matters most to me? Make sure you understand the goal of a particular therapy. Is it to prolong your life? Ease pain? Will you be able to tolerate the side effects?
- How much do I want to know—or be involved? Maybe you’d rather not hear every detail or you would prefer to entrust treatment decisions to your doctor or a loved one.
Who is on your team
- Medical oncologist—an MD who specializes in treating cancer with medicine
- Radiation oncologist—an MD who specializes in treating cancer using radiation
- Surgical oncologist—an MD who specializes in treating cancer through surgery
- Palliative care doctor—an MD specializing in preserving quality of life through pain management and symptom relief
- Pathologist—an MD who makes the diagnosis and may submit cancer tissue for molecular studies
- Radiologist—an MD who may perform MRI studies and nuclear medicine studies
- Plastic surgeon—an MD who can assist with reconstruction after surgery, such as a mastectomy
- Oncology nurse—an RN who provides care, support and education during cancer treatment
- Infusion nurse—an RN who administers medications, such as chemotherapy, through infusions
- Nurse navigator—an RN who educates you and provides resources you and your family may need during treatment
- Psychiatrist/psychologist—a mental health professional who can provide counselling; psychiatrists can also prescribe medication
- Social worker—a professional who can help you deal with psychological and social issues, as well as financial concerns