You’ve Got Cancer: Now What?
Have you been recently diagnosed with cancer? When you hear those words, ‘You’ve got cancer’, you don’t really hear much else after this. When I first heard I was diagnosed with cancer my first thoughts were:
- Why me?
- Why this?
- Why now?
- WTF? Are you kidding me?
- I don’t have time for this f**kery.
This was all happening in my head as the doctor was explaining things. The subsequent three additional times I heard this phrase, the SAME thoughts went through my head (although admittedly with many more expletives).
If you’ve never been through cancer or been a primary caregiver of someone with cancer, you likely don’t know the right questions to ask. This article addresses the questions to ask your doctors when you have been diagnosed with cancer. This is critical to understanding your diagnosis and options available to you for restored health.
There is so much swirling around in your head when you first get the cancer news. One of the very first things you need to do when first diagnosed is knowing the right questions to ask your doctors. You need to be armed with the right information to make the right decisions for yourself and your family.
When you are overwhelmed with things like:
- Well-meaning people giving advice
- Doctors pressuring you to do this or that
- Your wide range of feelings about your life and your future
- Your family’s feelings and support system
- Your financial future
- Your work or business
- People either saying the wrong thing or disappearing all together because they don’t know how best to support you
- Your support system
This is just the beginning and it’s hard to concentrate on one thing at a time. The most important thing you need to focus on in the moment is getting all the facts before making a decision.
When you’ve got cancer, here are the best questions to ask your doctors before deciding on treatment:
- Exactly what type of cancer do I have?
- Where exactly is it located?
- What stage is the cancer? What does this mean?
- Is this a fast growing or slow growing cancer?
- How is staging used to determine your recommended cancer treatment?
- What are my risks if I do not treat this with traditional treatment?
- Is this type of cancer caused by genetic factors? Are there any tests we can take to determine genetic factors?
- What are the most common symptoms of this type of cancer?
- What are the uncommon/rare symptoms?
- Do any of these drugs have life threatening side effects?
- What can be done to help minimize any symptoms?
Testing and treatment goals
- What tests have you performed? Are any other tests necessary?
- What information will these tests tell us?
- Will you explain, in easy to understand language, the results of all tests?
- If I seek a second opinion, will I need to repeat any tests or go through any procedures or will the doctor be able to use what we’ve done to date?
- What are my treatment options?
- Which treatments do you recommend and why?
- What is the goal of the treatment plan you recommend?
- If your wife/husband/mother/father/daughter/son had this exact cancer, would you recommend this exact treatment for them? Why or why not?
- Would YOU do this treatment if you were diagnosed with this exact cancer diagnosis?
- How old are the drugs you recommend? How long have they been around?
- Is this treatment curative or palliative? If curative: If the treatment you recommend doesn’t cure my cancer, then what? What is the recurrence rate after this treatment? Where does that statistic come from? If palliative: Why do you recommend treatment if it’s not going to cure me? How much time do you think I have to live if I do this treatment? How much time do you think I have to live if I do nothing? NOTE: I purposely did NOT want to know how much time I had either way. This was a personal decision on my part. Most people I find DO want to know. If you don’t want to know the doctor’s answer to this question, don’t ask it. Remember, it’s their opinion and should not be treated as the absolute truth. There are other things at play.
Most people stop here (if that) when asking questions about their cancer diagnosis.
Physician experience and support system
- How much experience do you and your team have with treating this particular type of cancer?
- How many patients have you treated with this exact type of cancer that are five years disease free? Is it possible to connect with them?
- Will treatment be done inpatient, outpatient or a combination?
- What is the expected timeline for my treatment plan?
- How will this treatment affect my daily life? Will I be able to perform my daily activities such as work, exercise, etc…?
- What are the short-term side effects of this recommended treatment?
- What long-term side effects may be associated with this cancer treatment?
- How many patients do you treat per year?
- Who is part of your support team and what are their roles?
- Whom should I call with questions or concerns during non-business hours?
- Who handles health insurance concerns in your office?
Decision points and follow up
- What follow up tests will I need? How often will I need them?
- I would like to take some time to change my life, would that be possible? How much time do I have to do this?
- How much time do I have to think about all this and make my decision?
- Is it possible for the body to heal itself of cancer?
- What is the best anti-cancer diet?
- If I decide not to do treatment, in order to enjoy the time I have left, will you support me with periodic blood tests and scans? If they say no, find another doctor.
- Can I get a copy of my medical records before I leave today?
Remember, you are the consumer and this is your life. The decision process regarding treatment should be taken as, if not more, seriously than other life decisions and major purchases. Cancer thrivers are activists! These 40 questions are critical for you to know before making the important decision about treatment.
In the next segments, I’ll share additional things to research before deciding on the route that’s best for you and secrets to getting a second opinion. I’ll also share key tips for being your own best advocate and how to plan for the unthinkable. Stay tuned!
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