Item Number One on New Year’s Resolution List: Be Your Own Health Advocate
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions — and More Questions
Your medical team is there to help you along your journey. You have a right to understand your medical diagnosis, treatment plan, and any other questions — both large and small — that come to mind.
Sandra, 49, Diagnosed at 45
“Don’t be afraid to ask a question. The old adage says the only dumb question is one you don’t ask. This is true. Also, question everything! You know your body and if you are unsure, ask. Ask again if necessary. Don’t just take what a doctor says and go with it. Trust your instincts.”
Amy, 48, Diagnosed at 39
“Take one or two people to your appointments and have them take notes and ask questions. If you do not understand or feel good about the care you are getting, go somewhere else and get another opinion. Do not listen to everyone and their bad experiences and think you will have the same, because everyone is different. Remain positive. It truly helps. Take one day at a time. Do not get anxious about the future.”
Do Your Research So That You Can Ask Even More Questions
Doing your research will probably spark even more questions, especially because what you find on the internet isn’t always clear or correct. In fact, there’s a lot of plain misinformation out there, so ask your medical team what sites and other resources they recommend.
Ginger, 42, First Diagnosed at 31 While 5 Months Pregnant, Rediagnosed at 40
“A cancer diagnosis typically starts with fear: fear of the unknown and fear of death. Fear often stems from not having enough knowledge, so learning how the body can heal itself and what to do to nourish, strengthen, and empower the body is one way to be your own advocate and help put you in a place of power instead of a place of being controlled.
"Asking questions and learning what questions to ask by talking with other survivors — prior to making medical decisions — is very important, so that an informed decision can be made. When choices are made in fear, the outcomes can be less beneficial and more frightening, but when time is spent learning, discovering, and asking questions, people will have more time to assess what they learned and make a game plan of their choosing, instead of someone else.”
Kimberlee, 40, Diagnosed With BRCA1+ at 36 and Cancer at 38
“They tell you not to go out there and research on your own. I understand why, because there is a lot out there that is just wrong and can be frightening. Still, I think that having a good understanding of your diagnosis is important for your own peace of mind.
"Knowing for yourself that you have done everything you can to get rid of your cancer — and prevent it from coming back — has helped me push away the worry of reoccurrence that creeps in from time to time. I say your cancer, because cancer is different for everyone. My stage 2b is different than someone else’s stage 2b because of our genetics. When researching, this is important to remember so you don’t get caught up in someone else’s cancer story.”
Don’t Be Afraid of Getting a Second Opinion
Don’t worry about hurting your medical team’s feelings; second opinions are part of the process — and you’d be hard pressed to find a doctor who wouldn’t get one on his or her own case. You have to be completely confident and comfortable with the path forward, and if that means you meet with more professionals before making an informed medical decision, then that’s okay.
Leslie, 40, Diagnosed at 31
“If you want a second opinion, get it. Don't be afraid of hurting your doctor’s feelings or feel guilty by asking for a second opinion. Ask your doctor or nurse whom they would recommend.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Switch Course
You might end up finding out that your second opinion feels more like the right choice to you. Perhaps you feel a better connection to that doctor, or feel that she or he is more in line with your approach to health. Ultimately you have to make a decision that works best for you, even if it means changing the direction.
Sandra, 49, Diagnosed at 45
“I actually had to change doctors in my journey because I felt that my doctor was not listening and thought my opinion didn’t count. As a stage 4 patient (not curable), you are treated differently than early stage because you are treated for life.”
Marie, 42, Diagnosed at 26
“After having been diagnosed with breast cancer on three separate occasions and going through various biopsies, surgeries, and treatments, I think the best advice I could offer someone about becoming their own advocate on this cancer journey is to find an oncologist, or oncology team, that you would trust, quite literally, with your life.
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