Cancer Tips

5 questions to ask after a cancer diagnosis

Facing a cancer diagnosis is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. Hearing “it’s cancer” is a life-changing moment. Knowing what to ask after a cancer diagnosis can be helpful in deciding on treatment and more. Keep reading for 5 questions to ask after a cancer diagnosis.

The top request I get from newly diagnosed cancer survivors is what questions to ask their oncologist. And I get it, it’s an overwhelming time. I’ve heard “it’s cancer” three times and every time, my breath has left me for a moment. It’s scary. Since I’ve been through it three times, as well as with my dad, sister and niece, I have a good grasp on some key questions to help get started.

Knowledge is power

An estimated 1.8 million Americans will receive a cancer diagnosis this year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Most of those people will feel very lost, anxious, sad and more. All natural emotions.

Getting the right information can help you feel more empowered and in control of an otherwise out-of-control situation. This can help lower your anxiety and stress, which is important while navigating your cancer journey.

Your oncologist, other doctors and their office staff can provide valuable information to help you make decisions on a treatment plan, if work/school are manageable, any restrictions you may have, insurance authorizations and more. Don’t hesitate to ask questions at your appointments, or call the office if necessary. Your doctors should not rush any conversations during appointments to ensure you feel comfortable.

I usually tell the medical assistant (or whichever staff person takes me to the exam room) that I have questions for the doctor. That helps prepare the doctor that we’ll need to allot time for conversation.

Also consider bringing a family member or friend who you’re comfortable with to your doctor appointments. Having ‘another set of ears’ to listen and take notes can be very helpful for decision-making after the appointments. It’s a lot of information to process and having someone else there to support and help navigate can be comforting too. [FYI, subscribers get access to a doctor appointment notes document in my free resource library!]

Asking questions is your right (and responsibility)

When I went through bone cancer at 21 years old, my mom was amazing at keeping a binder of doctor appointment notes, blood work, test results, treatment plan and more (that thing is ridiculously thick and a sobering reminder of how aggressively intense that treatment was, and the long-term effects are). It was super helpful having things in one place.

5 questions to ask after a cancer diagnosis

So when I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, I found a bright, fun orange notebook that has become my ‘healthy living notebook.’ I bring it to all my doctor appointments – oncologists, gynecologist, endocrinologist, physical therapist, etc. This keeps everything in one spot (I use my patient portal for test results). And often an issue I’m dealing with ties into multiple doctors (thankfully my doctors communicate great with each other too). Having everything in one notebook is helpful when I want to refer back to a note.

I like to prepare a list of questions before my appointment. This gives me time to think about what I need to know. Sometimes I’ll think of something days before my appointment so I have a running list of questions to bring with me. In fact, my doctors are so used to me asking questions that I’ve had a few pause during my appointment to ask what questions I have for them!

As with any situation, but especially your health and life, remember to be your own advocate. You have the right to ask as many questions as you need to fully understand and be comfortable with the suggested treatment. You can question why a particular medication, treatment, test, whatever is recommended. This is YOUR life!

If your doctor(s) isn’t open to you asking questions then perhaps that is not the right doctor for you. You also can get a second opinion if you prefer. [Read tips for choosing the right doctor here.]

There will be so many questions spinning through your mind when you’re first diagnosed, or even if another treatment open or medication is mentioned. There is no wrong question when it comes to your health. However, sometimes we don’t know what questions to ask or where to start. The following can get you started.

Here are 5 questions to ask after a cancer diagnosis:

1. What is the exact medical diagnosis (type)/stage of my cancer? How confident are you with this diagnosis?

2. What is the recommended treatment protocol (drugs, tests, timeline)? Is this a proven treatment plan (research-backed)? What is your experience treating this type of cancer and treatment plan?

3. Will I see the doctor or other care team member (physician assistant, nurse practitioner, nurse navigator or other) during my appointments? Who do I call with questions or if I have side effects from treatment?

4. What are common side effects with this treatment? (nausea, hair loss, fatigue, insomnia, etc.) What is your advice to be proactive in preventing/minimizing these side effects?

5. How often do you monitor to make sure that I’m responding to treatment (it’s working)?

Want more?

These 5 questions to ask after a cancer diagnosis are a great start to get you better informed. If you’d like more questions, as well as a doctor’s appointment notes document, subscribe to receive exclusive, free access to the resource library with both of these downloads and more.

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