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Questions to ask your doctor

Published: 12 May 2017

Being diagnosed with cancer comes as an almighty shock; and there’s nothing that can prepare you for that moment. Being blindsided this way - with your emotions and brain going into overdrive and stress levels rising - may make it hard for you to take in information.

As the initial sense of disbelief subsides and you begin to digest the news of what is happening, it helps to gain knowledge and become more informed about your condition – and the possible treatment options that lie ahead, but what do you ask? 

Making a list of your thoughts and questions is a useful way to get you started, and ensure you do not forget to ask the small things that are personally important to you.

To help you understand and take back control of your diagnosis, here are some key questions you should ask your physician about fighting cancer:

 

What type of cancer do I have?

This might sound like an obvious question, but there are often subtleties within cancer diagnoses that can impact how your health will be affected, and the best course of treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask the experts to break down medical jargon, so that you understand exactly what you are going through, and how it is affecting your body.

They will also be able to tell you the stage and grade of your cancer, which indicates how far the disease has advanced. This will have an impact on the right choice of treatment for you.  

What caused my disease?

On the whole, you should focus on fighting cancer, however it can be useful to know the cause of your condition, in case it can help those around you. For example, if it is the result of lifestyle factors such as smoking or drinking, you can talk to friends and family who have made the same lifestyle choices as you, to warn them of the possible consequences.

If it is a genetic cause, there is a chance your relatives could be susceptible to the same disease, and early detection and treatment can save lives.

What procedures and treatments will I need?

Being diagnosed with cancer will trigger a chain of medical appointments, diagnostic tests, and ultimately treatment paths. Get your support team to break it down into stages, so you understand exactly what will happen and when.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask why you will undergo certain procedures. One of the challenges when working with cancer experts is that they battle this disease everyday, which means they can sometimes forget that what is routine to them can be unfamiliar and frightening to you. The more you understand, the more empowered you will feel.

What support services are available?

Fighting cancer isn’t just a physical battle; it’s important that you and your closest friends and family look after your emotional health as well. You may find that there are free support services such as counselling available to you, to help you process and cope with the diagnosis and resulting treatment.

You may be provided with some useful information brochures, and there is lots more literature and online information out there – don’t feel shy about asking for more information on services and support in your local area.

Arm yourself with the facts

While the thought of probing deeper into your diagnosis may be frightening, learning more about cancer can really boost your ability to battle the disease.

In fact, studies have shown that well-informed patients tend to have fewer side effects and better outcomes than those who simply follow what their doctor says, without questioning.

To help you take in the information being shared with you, make sure you keep a record of your conversations with your specialists - take a notebook along to make notes at your appointments, for example. Or, if you find writing notes while listening a challenge, an alternate option is to see if you can record your meetings on your smartphone.

And don’t feel you have to shoulder the burden alone, either; getting a loved one to sit in on appointments means two people can ask questions and remember responses, as well as ensuring there is someone on hand to offer you moral support.

The most important thing you can do is to create a toolkit for yourself, to make sure you get the information you need to feel more comfortable. Make lists, do your research, and speak to your medical team at every opportunity. This will help you to not only feel more informed, but to not dwell on the negative, and focus on the positive.