When we received Alan’s diagnosis of sarcoma, we were in complete shock and terrified. We could barely breathe, much less begin to have an intelligent conversation with our doctor. Fortunately we had a day to process the diagnosis and were then able to make an attempt at preparing for our initial meeting with our medical oncologist.
Depending on the doctor that you are meeting with, he or she may or may not be proactive in giving you all the information you need to really understand what’s going on. Since you don’t know ahead of time which type of doctor you’ll be meeting, it’s best to come prepared with a written list of questions you have.
Cancer.net and MyCancer.com are two sites that list out fantastic questions to ask your doctor before you begin cancer treatments. Below are some of the questions found on these sites as well as from my own personal experience. Ask only those questions that you believe would help you, and feel free to overlook those that wouldn’t.
What Should I Ask My Oncologist?
- What are my treatment options?
- Which treatments, or combination of treatments, do you recommend? Why?
- What is the goal of the treatment you are recommending? To cure or to extend life or to ease symptoms?
- When will you know if the treatment is working and how?
- What clinical trials (research studies involving people) are open to me?
- Who will be part of my treatment team, and what does each member do?
- How much experience do you (or the treatment team) have treating this type of cancer?
- How effective and useful do you feel biomarker testing and analysis are for my particular cancer?
- How likely is it that molecular profiling will uncover something useable for my cancer?
- What will happen if molecular profiling identifies an “off-label” treatment that might be effective for me?
- Will I need to be hospitalized for treatment, or is this treatment done in an outpatient clinic?
- What is the expected timeline for my treatment plan? Do I need to be treated right away?
- How will this treatment affect my daily life? Will I be able to work, exercise, and perform my usual activities?
- What are the expected (not possible) side effects of the treatment you are recommending?
- Will this treatment affect my fertility (ability to become pregnant or father children)? If so, have a discussion on fertility preservation. (HMHB.org has a great post on the topic.)
- How can I keep myself as healthy as possible during treatment?
- Are there any supplementary treatments, vitamins or nutritional aids that would help my treatments?
A few additional suggestions…
- If possible, bring a friend or someone who can be objective on the appointment(s) with you. These appointments can be overwhelming and processing all the information you will be given may be difficult to do.
- Take notes or better yet, bring a recorder (Thank goodness for smart phones).
- Know that at each doctor’s appointment and stage of treatment, more questions will come up.
- Ask questions, even if you think they’re stupid. After all, the only stupid question is a question not asked.
- When formulating treatment plans, always get a second opinion. Although it might seem overwhelming, second opinions will either confirm what you’ve already been told or present different options to weigh.
What additional questions did you ask or wished you had asked? Do you have any additional advice for the newly diagnosed?
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