Advocating for Yourself At The Doctor's Office
Last updated: June 2023
When newly diagnosed with blood cancer, I was faced with complex choices, fear, and uncertainty. I needed to learn about my disease, treatment options, and how and where to obtain the information.
This describes the role of cancer advocacy in which the cancer patient takes an active role in understanding the diagnosis and treatment options. The patient must consider the risks and benefits of treatment and select the one that fits best with you as an individual. Physician communication becomes a two -way interactive discussion. The patient works together with the physician as a team to come up with the best treatment plan.
There may be several choices regarding treatment options and only you can decide which is the best choice for you, how aggressive you wish to be treated, and what side effects you are willing to accept. This self-advocacy has been shown to lessen patient anxiety and allow the patient to feel empowered.
The following are helpful strategies to assist in self-advocacy:
- Do not be afraid to ask questions, ask directions, and seek clarifications if needed.
- Prepare questions prior to your appointment if possible. Consider a journal to jot down issues or questions that may come up between office visits.
- Bring someone with you to calm your nerves and remind you of anything that you may have forgotten. I was so nervous when seeing an oncologist for a second opinion. It was my husband who reminded me of what the physician had said about the prognosis. I heard him say ten years. My husband clarified the accuracy of his statement as “decades and decades.” A family member being there certainly lessened my anxiety.
- Choose a physician who understands and encourages your feelings. Realize that your mental well-being directly affects your physical health. My oncologist expects me to ask questions and is receptive. He has even been kind enough to provide me with his cell phone number. I do not abuse this information but use it sparingly. My oncologist recognizes my scanxiety and promptly reviews my CAT scan when I text him as to the date of completion.
- If available, consider a second opinion at a Cancer Center which treats a large number of patients.
- Learn as much as you can about your cancer. Look at reliable resources online and check the URL. If it ends with .gov, .org, or .edu, the site may be more reliable than a site ending in .com.
- When making your treatment decisions, take your time, talk to others, and weigh the pro and cons. Consider the side effects of treatment, risks, cost, logistical factors, travel for treatment, childcare, or time off from work. Shared decision making means more than just listening to the advice of your physician. It includes evaluating the benefits and risks of the proposed therapy and takes into account your personal values, goals, and priorities.
The above strategies can assist in your ability to advocate for yourself.
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