By Margot Malin, CEO of Lots To Live For, Inc.
Patients who are well informed and take a proactive role in making choices about their cancer treatment protocol are likely to be more comfortable as they progress through treatment. Knowledge is empowering and knowing what to expect and what comes next demystifies the process.
Be your own health advocate by asking questions to become informed and “buy in” to your treatment protocol. It is a good idea to bring a friend or relative with you to medical appointments both for emotional support, and also because a second set of “eyes and ears” might understand what is being said differently, they may think of a whole different set of questions, or might interpret ambiguous or confusing information in a different way. Take notes so you can remember what was discussed. After all, going to a doctor can be both emotional and terrifying.
Here are 22 questions to ask your oncology team about your cancer treatment protocol:
- What is the goal of chemotherapy and/or radiation for my cancer?
- Why are you recommending chemotherapy / radiation? If you had cancer would you treat yourself with this protocol? How long have you been prescribing this treatment and how many patients have received it?
- What is the treatment period for the radiation regimen that you are proposing?
What is the likelihood that it might be interrupted due to adverse skin reactions?
- Which specific chemotherapy drugs will I be given? What are your expectations for this medication? Are there other options that can produce the same or similar results?
- If you are proposing more than one chemotherapy drug, what is the reason for selecting the specific “cocktail” that you recommend?
- What has the success rate been? Do you expect that the tumor will disappear completely, or just shrink in size? Will the cancer start growing again after treatment?
- How will I know if the chemotherapy or radiation is working? How do you plan to assess the effectiveness of the treatment?
- What is the likelihood that my survival time will be increased as a result of this treatment? What is the expected survival time increase as compared to no treatment?
- What is the likelihood that my quality of life will be improved after I receive this treatment?
- What are the risks associated with this treatment with regard to morbidity (adverse effects from the treatment), mortality and the risks of developing another cancer?
- How will I receive the chemotherapy: how often; how long; oral or intravenous?
- Where will I go to get my chemotherapy treatments?
- What can I do to prepare for treatment and decrease the chance of debilitating side effects?
- What side effects should I expect and how long will they last? What can I do to reduce uncomfortable side effects if they occur? (please visit http://www.LotsToLiveFor.com for products to reduce and relieve side effects of cancer treatment)
- What should I do if I lose weight and don’t seem to be getting the proper nutrition?
- What support can you suggest to boost the efficacy and reduce my risk of dangerous side effects? Can you suggest suitable herbal and natural remedies? Will you help me devise a supplement program?
- Are there any clinical trials which might be suitable for me which I might want to explore?
- If my insurance company asks for a second opinion, or if I would like to get one, can you suggest another oncologist to contact?
- Does your practice or does this facility offer an Oncology Nurse Navigator for their patients? (See blog post entitled “What is an Oncology Nurse Navigator?”)
- Can you recommend a Cancer Coach? (See blog post entitled “Cancer Coach-Trained to Help Cancer Patients Along Their Journey – Could a Cancer Coach
Help You?” )
- What lifestyle changes will I need to make to prepare for treatment, during treatment and after treatment with regards to: Diet, Activities, Work and Exercise?
- Do you recommend complementary therapies such as yoga, exercise, acupuncture, meditation, and do you have other suggestions?
Receiving a diagnosis and discussing treatment options can be overwhelming. It is helpful to be prepared for appointments with a concrete list of questions and to take thorough and complete notes. Sometimes it helps to try to take a step away, and approach the discussion clinically. As hard as it is, try to be unemotional and evaluative. Do research, take notes and keep thorough records. We hope these questions will help you take control, and understand your treatment better.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Know your options and embrace your informed decisions. Knowledge is power and empowerment makes you a better patient.
If readers of this blog post have additional suggestions to add to this list, please comment on this blog or on http://www.facebook.com/LotsToLiveFor .
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About Margot Malin: Intellectually curious and fiercely independent, Margot Malin has a passion for knowledge. After receiving her MBA from The Wharton School, she launched her career by analyzing and evaluating businesses. In 2002 she embarked on the “creative reinvention” phase of her career with the intention of “giving back”. Margot founded Lots To Live For, Inc., an internet retailer that sells carefully selected products to reduce and relieve the uncomfortable and unpleasant side effects caused by chemotherapy and radiation.