- Meeting with the Oncologists
The first step is making an appointment with an oncologist — a doctor who specializes in treating cancer.
2. Your story
When it’s time to meet with your oncologist for the first time, they will usually have you walk them through your story. This serves two purposes: first, it allows them to confirm the information collected by the patient coordinator and fill in any gaps. Secondly, it gives them an opportunity to get to you know you better. As a result of this conversation, they’ll be able to learn more about your hopes, concerns, and goals, and can work to create a treatment plan that is best for you.
In telling your story, it’s important to never withhold information. Try to be as complete as you can be, and when in doubt, err on the side of oversharing. The more information you provide, the better aligned you’ll be with your team. Don’t worry if you get stuck; your doctor will have your medical chart, and they can use it to help guide you through each milestone.
In addition, you may find it beneficial to have someone accompany you during your initial visit. Not only can they provide emotional support, but they can also take notes, help you remember important dates, and process things after the visit.
3. What should I bring with me?
In order to make it a thorough consultation, the oncologist you’re meeting with should have all your reports and other requested materials. This includes copies of scans, x-rays, MRIs, CTs, or other imaging tests that were done, and pathology slides if a biopsy was performed.
4. What all information does the doctor need to know??
It’s a good idea to be upfront with your doctor and let him/her know about your other medical conditions, previous surgeries, other cancers and treatment, prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, and herbal supplements. Don’t assume “it’s all there in the record.” Make a list and bring it with you. You may not realize it, but how well you’re handling your diabetes may impact on how well your chemotherapy works on your breast cancer or how well your radiation works on your prostate cancer.
- Bring a list of any drugs you’re taking, both prescription and over-the-counter. Be sure to include vitamins, minerals, and supplements.
- Organize copies of your information in a loose-leaf binder with pockets. It will become a handy reference kit. Include a written list of questions about your diagnosis and treatment options.
- 5. What are those key questions?
And even more questions come up after the consultation. So write those down so that you can talk with your cancer specialist at the next visit. It often takes time for you to process everything that you have been told. If you still have a lot of questions, rather than calling the office with one at a time, schedule a follow up visit. This way you can have ample time to ask and more importantly, to understand.
Ask a family member or friend to accompany you.
Having said that, here are some things that are helpful to discuss during your first appointment:
- What is my diagnosis and how soon do I need to start therapy?
- What are my treatment options, what’s involved, and how long will each treatment take?
- What are the benefits of the recommended treatment?
- What are its potential risks and side effects?
- Should I consider participating in a clinical trial?
- How will treatment affect my daily routine? Can I continue to work through treatment?
- Will treatment impact my fertility? If so, is there anything I can do to protect my ability to have children in the future?
- What should I do if I develop new symptoms after I begin treatment?
- What support resources are available to help me cope with my diagnosis?
- Whom should I call if I have additional questions after I leave the office?
Synthesizing the information
Once all of your information is collected, your oncologist will want to make sure you understand your cancer. They will usually start by explaining the general characteristics of your type of cancer, and then talk to you about your particular diagnosis. For example, if you have intermediate-risk prostate cancer, they may begin by explaining prostate cancer before diving into the different types, and finally, explaining your particular diagnosis.
At this point, you’ll start to learn about the various treatment options available to you, and the accompanying percentage of success for each. It’s important to remember that not all cancers are the same, and your diagnosis may fall into a “gray zone.” Factors like the cancer’s location, its stage, or even your age make it more difficult to accurately calculate how you and your cancer will respond to each treatment.
Every treatment has its pros and cons, and your doctor will make sure you know what these are. However, they should also make you confident that they’ve created the best possible treatment regimen for you.
Before your first visit, there are a few additional things you may want to consider:
- If possible, patients should try to come to their appointment with someone they trust. This experience can be difficult and anxiety-provoking. Having someone there to comfort you or take notes can be helpful.
- Secondly, make sure you have something to write with. Your oncologist will be going over a lot of information and writing things down will help you sort through these details later on. Some hospitals may allow you to even record these conversations. Just make sure you have your doctor’s consent before doing so.
Finally, don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion. This can be exceptionally valuable if your diagnosis falls into the “grey zone,” and your oncologist may even be able to help facilitate a meeting with another doctor.