Becoming a Proactive Cancer Patient
Experts explain what newly diagnosed cancer patients need to know to help fight their disease.
Know Your Information 'Comfort Level' continued...
M.D. Anderson gynecological cancer specialist Charles Levenback, MD, tells
WebMD that it is important that patients think about just how much information
they want before they sit down with their doctors.
"These days the assumption is that the patient wants to know everything,
but some may really only want the big picture," he says. "Or they want
more information as time goes on. It is important to communicate this."
It is also a good idea to write down questions before meeting with your
doctor. The American Cancer Society web site includes a long list of potential
questions which can be found in the "Learn about Cancer" section of the
site, under the main heading "Patients, Family and Friends." Sample
questions, which can be printed and taken along on doctors visits, can also be
found on WebMD.
Another Set of Ears
Patients often benefit when they bring someone along to appointments for
support and to act as another set of ears, Levenback says. A friend is often
better than a close family member in this support role, because family members
are often as upset as the patient.
Christina Koenig of Y-ME recommends bringing a tape recorder to doctor's
appointments if all agree that this is appropriate.
At the very least, someone should take notes during appointments, Arnim
"I've had people tell me that after the first five minutes they didn't
hear a thing their doctor was telling them," she says. "That is to be
Don't Be Afraid to Rock the Boat
Arnim says cancer patients are often reluctant to speak up when they are
upset about something, out of a conscious or subconscious fear that their
doctors or other medical caregivers will abandon them.
"The tendency when someone is feeling vulnerable and scared is to put up
with something rather than rock the boat," she says. "But even though
your instincts may be telling you to keep quiet, it is important to speak
Rocking the boat also means not accepting everything your doctors tells you
as gospel. If you feel the need for a second or even third opinion on any
aspect of your cancer care, get one.
This advice is equally true for people who suspect they have cancer or some
other serious problem, but have been told nothing is wrong, Kennedy says.
"If a doctor is dismissive or hard to communicate with, or tells you
nothing is wrong when your gut tells you it is, you need to find another
doctor," she says.
Forty-seven-year-old Julie Gomez learned this lesson the hard way. The
Houston woman saw a long line of doctors for a painful stomach problem for
almost a decade before her rare gastrointestinal cancer was finally
"I was told I had acid reflux or that I ate too fast," she says.
"One doctor did all the right tests, and actually saw something on the scan
but told me he just didn't believe it. That was eight years before I was