Cancer Support: Being an Active Patient
Dealing with cancer is hard enough without feeling like you have to make decisions, ask your doctor questions, and be part of your treatment team.
It may seem easier to just let your doctors handle everything.
But it's a fact that when you are an "active patient"—when you and your doctors make decisions together—you're more likely to be happier with your care and have better medical results.1
How do you become an active patient?
Get the facts. Ask questions. Learn all you can. If you don't understand something, ask your doctor to explain it again.
Bring a support person. Bring a trusted friend or relative to every appointment. This support person can ask questions you forgot to ask or help you remember later what your doctor said.
Take the lead. Go to all your appointments. Speak up for yourself. Make sure the medicine you get at the drugstore is the right one.
Ask lots of questions. At every stage of your testing, diagnosis, and treatment, ask your doctor if there is anything you may not be prepared for or aren't expecting. For example, you could ask, "What are the things about this (test, surgery, treatment) that patients wish they'd known about ahead of time?"
Use your whole team. Ask your doctor who else is on your treatment team and how they can be resources for you. For example, a nurse practitioner may be more available than your doctor when questions come up. Or your team may include a dietitian, a massage therapist, or a social worker.
Be part of each decision. Make your own feelings and values part of your decision. Talk to loved ones who will be affected by it. Make a list of pros and cons for each option. Share all this with your doctor.
Make an action plan. After you and your doctor have made a decision, find out what you can do to make sure that you will have the best possible outcome. Write down the steps that you need to take next. Think positively about your decision.
What questions should you ask?
Even the smartest people in the world have trouble thinking clearly at the doctor's office, especially when the subject is as serious as cancer. That's why taking a trusted relative or friend with you is such a good idea. And it may help if you write down the questions you want to ask and bring the list with you.
|Questions to ask about ...|
|Questions to ask about ...|
How do you find reliable information?
Most people search the Internet for information about their cancer. That can be confusing, and some information isn't true or isn't reliable. But there are ways to find good information.
Look for websites you can trust. For example, the information you collect should be based on sound medical research, not the results of a single study or facts published by a company that will profit by your using its product. Ask your doctor to explain any information you have questions about.
Ask your doctors. They may have information you can borrow. Or they will know of websites that are reliable.
Contact national organizations. A number of national organizations are in the business of helping patients. The major organizations include:
- American Cancer Society (ACS). The ACS has reliable information about various cancers, available in English, Spanish, and Chinese. On the Internet, go to www.cancer.org. Or call 1-800-227-2345.
- National Cancer Institute (NCI). This is a government agency that provides up-to-date information about cancer and its prevention, detection, and treatment. You can also contact trained staff with questions. Spanish-speaking staff members are available. Contact the NCI on the Internet at www.cancer.gov, or call 1-800-422-6237.
- National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). This network includes many of the world's leading cancer centers and can help you make informed choices about cancer care. The NCCN, with the American Cancer Society, publishes NCCN Guidelines for Patients, which are easy-to-read resources about many cancers. Contact the NCCN on the Internet at www.nccn.com, or call (215) 690-0330.
- Patient Advocate Foundation. This is a nonprofit organization that helps people get the care they need. It also helps patients keep their jobs and maintain financial stability. The Foundation supports legislation that benefits cancer patients. It offers information in Spanish as well as English. You can contact the Patient Advocate Foundation on the Internet at www.patientadvocate.org, or call 1-800-532-5274.
Go to your local public library. Public libraries often have medical sections that contain books with general information about cancer. If you're not sure how to find what you need, ask a librarian to help you.
See if your local hospital has a medical library that is open to the public. Many are. They may even have some books and online resources that are written specifically for patients rather than doctors. You can ask a librarian to help you find books or articles.
What can you do about waiting for test results?
Waiting to hear about a result that may change your life can be one of the worst things about cancer treatment.
While it may seem like your doctor isn't giving you good service, try to remember that most doctors, clinics, labs, and hospitals are very busy. That said, there's no reason why you have to sit by the phone and wait.
You can be an active patient without worrying that you're being rude. Here are some tips:
- If you're not told when to expect the results, ask. Remind the doctor, nurse, or other health professional how hard the waiting is going to be.
- Ask if it's possible to get the results sooner, especially before the weekend.
- Ask for the best phone number to call for results.
- If you don't get a call back when you think you should, call again. And keep calling.
- Will people think you're a pest if you call every day—or twice a day? Who cares? It's your life and your money.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Catherine D. Serio, PhD - Behavioral Health|
|Last Revised||June 18, 2012|
Last Revised: June 18, 2012
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