Establishing a good relationship with your oncologist can help you play an active role in your cancer treatment. One of the best ways to start that relationship is to ask questions, says Wendy Griffith, senior social work counselor.
“Asking questions lets your doctors know that you are engaged in your care and that you want to be a part of the decision-making process,” Griffith says. “It also lets your doctor know you understand.”
But many patients are intimidated, nervous or too overwhelmed to ask questions. Griffith offers these tips to help patients open up the lines of communication with their doctors.
Ask the questions you need to ask to understand your diagnosis and cancer stage.
If you want to learn more about your cancer diagnosis and treatment, make sure you understand the basics first. This will allow you to better understand your treatment options. It will also make it easier to address the questions loved ones and friends may ask you.
To make sure you understand your diagnosis and its stage, ask your doctor to use simple words or try rephrasing. Or repeat back what you heard (or think you heard) your doctor say to make sure you’re grasping the details.
Discuss what your quality of life will be like.
Knowing what your quality of life will be like with each type of treatment you’re considering can make it easier to make a decision.
Ask your doctor if you will have to travel for treatment and how often. Will you be able to continue working at your job or maintaining your usual routine?
What side effects will you experience? Knowing these things can help you choose which treatment plan is right for you.
Learn about other available services.
Because your doctor is focused on your treatment, she may not tell you about support services and other resources, Griffith says. Asking is a great way to learn more about what resources you may need. This also can help your doctor learn about your priorities and interests.
If your doctor is unfamiliar with such resources, ask to speak with a social work counselor. Social worker counselors can connect you to a wide variety of services, ranging from financial assistance and travel to coping and support groups, Griffith says.
Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions.
Cancer treatment can bring up the deepest emotions and difficult subjects. If you’re looking for answers to tough questions, don’t be afraid to ask them. But be sure to ask them in the right way, Griffith says.
“Many patients, especially those with late stage diagnosis, want to know how much time they have left. This is a difficult question that doctors often struggle to answer,” Griffith says.
Instead of asking for a specific amount of time, she recommends asking about time in a more general sense. For example, try asking if the doctor anticipates there being days, months or years left.
“This gives a more accurate picture that both the doctor and patient can be comfortable with,” she says.
Find out how your doctor prefers to be contacted.
Every doctor prefers to be contacted in a different way, whether it’s through myMDAnderson or by calling the clinic. Ask your doctor what works best for her so you can follow up with any questions you may have later.
After all, asking questions and establishing a relationship with your oncologist can help you play an active role in your cancer treatment.
“This allows you to feel more comfortable moving forward in your cancer treatment,” Griffith says. “It gives you a sense of control and ownership that cancer may take away.”