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

Build the Best Cancer Support Team for All Your Needs
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Building Your Cancer Support Team

While having the collected expertise of a cancer support team may seem great, you may be anxious about having to choose all of its members. Luckily, you don’t have to.

"There are so many people who will be involved in your care that it’s virtually impossible to research every one of them,” says Burstein. That’s why it’s so important to have a doctor that you like and trust, since he or she will be pointing you toward specific experts. This can be an advantage, since your cancer support team is likely to work most efficiently if all of the experts have collaborated before.

“Usually, your doctor will already have a group of people that he or she works with all the time,” says Burstein. “So you don’t need to track down each person yourself.”

That said, if you already have a specific person in mind -- a surgical oncologist that your sister loved, or a dietitian you’ve worked with before -- talk to your doctor. If it would make you more comfortable, ask to have this person brought onto your cancer support team. By the same token, if you’re not comfortable with one of the experts your doctor has referred you to, tell your doctor. Ask to see someone else.

The important thing is that your cancer support team runs smoothly. “Having a team of people who can work well together is invaluable for someone with cancer,” says Burstein.

One advantage of getting care at a specialized center or large hospital is that you might be able to see everyone -- from oncologist to dietitian to therapist -- under one roof. It can make things easier for you and reduce the odds of miscommunication between health care providers, says Buckner. Still, you can get excellent medical care even if you do have to go to different medical centers. Just check in with your doctor to make sure that everyone on your cancer support team is working well together.

Asking for What You Need From Your Cancer Support Team

Part of your cancer support team’s job is to make sure that you’re getting the care that you need. Your caregivers should be regularly checking in to make sure that you're doing as well as you possibly can, both physically and mentally.

But that doesn’t mean you should leave everything up to the experts. You need to take an active role in your treatment. You’re not just a patient -- you’re a vital member of the team.

“Our goal is to make treatment as easy, comfortable, and successful as possible,” says Ades. “But patients have to tell us what they need.”

When you’re in treatment for cancer, things may change from day to day or week to week. Yesterday, you felt great, but today, the side effects are awful. Or you may suddenly realize that your chemotherapy schedule just doesn’t fit in with the rest of your life. As long as you keep your doctor up to date, your cancer support team can tweak your treatment, or add new experts as you need them. Don’t be shy about asking for help.

So never underestimate your own role in making your treatment work. If you need something that your cancer support team isn’t giving you, speak up.

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Reviewed on April 23, 2009
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