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Your Cancer Support Team: Who’s on Your Side?

Build the Best Cancer Support Team for All Your Needs

The Heart of Your Cancer Support Team: Your Doctor and Nurse continued...

In many cases, your oncologist will work closely with an oncology nurse or nurse practitioner. You may find that you deal with your nurse the most.

"Doctors are often very focused on delivering treatment with a high degree of technical accuracy. Oftentimes, nurses who know the patient well will have additional insight into how the patient is doing from a broader point of view. That is why it is so important to have an effective team of providers -- doctors, nurses, administrative staff -- all working together in your care," Burstein says.

Ades says that for many people, the duo of the oncologist and nurse forms the core of the cancer support team. They should guide you through your treatment. Just make sure you know who they are.

“When they get diagnosed with cancer, people see so many experts so quickly that some don’t even know who their doctor is,” says Buckner. That’s a problem. If you have any doubt, just ask. It may seem like a silly question, but you have to know who is coordinating your treatment -- and whom to call with questions.

Other Specialists on Your Cancer Support Team

For some cases, that core team of an oncologist and an oncology nurse may be the only experts you need for your cancer support team, says Ades. But most of the time, you’ll need the help of more specialists. So who else do you need to see? That depends entirely on your case. Many people may need to see a radiation oncologist for radiation treatments. If you need surgery, you may see a surgical oncologist or general surgeon who specializes in treating cancer.

Experts other than doctors also play a vital role in forming your cancer support team. “The care for someone with cancer always starts with the medical staff, but it quickly expands beyond that,” says Burstein. Cancer treatment isn’t only about treating cancer -- it’s about keeping the person feeling as well as possible during treatment.

For instance, during treatment, you need to pay attention to your overall physical health. A dietitian can make sure that you’re getting all of the nutrients you need during treatment -- which can be hard, especially if you’re nauseated by chemotherapy. A physical therapist can help you keep your strength up during treatment or build it back up afterward.

Getting through treatment will be a lot easier if you stay emotionally healthy, too. Although you might not think of a therapist or social worker as being important in cancer treatment, they often are. Cancer can have profound psychological effects. Many people become depressed or anxious during treatment. Talking through some of these issues can make a huge difference. Sometimes, family members may also need to meet with a therapist or social worker.

Complementary treatments -- like acupuncture and massage -- are also becoming increasingly common for people with cancer. These complementary therapies aren't usually intended to treat the cancer itself. But they can ease side effects and improve quality of life. They may even reduce the amount of medicine you need for treatment. At some hospitals and cancer treatment centers, acupuncturists or massage therapists are actually on staff and can coordinate treatment with your doctor.

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What treatment concerns you most?