If you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer, you’re probably still reeling.
You may be grappling with issues that are profound -- like life and death --
and mundane -- like who will do the laundry when you’re in the hospital?
But you won’t fight this alone. Of course, you’ll have your family and
friends. And you’ll have your doctor. But your medical care won’t just be in
the hands of a single MD. Instead, you’ll need a whole cancer support team to
help you through this. “Good cancer treatment always requires a lot of people,”
says Jan C. Buckner, MD, chair of medical oncology at the Mayo Clinic in
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Of course, you may be wondering how this system works. How can you -- when
you are probably feeling overwhelmed already -- pick an entire cancer support
team? Here’s what you need to know.
Why Do You Need a Cancer Support Team?
Treating cancer often requires more than one approach -- not just
chemotherapy for instance, but surgery or radiation, too. That usually means
more than one doctor.
But good medical care is more than just treating the cancer itself. Cancer
can affect every aspect of your life: your mood, your diet, and your family, to
name a few. So you may need nurses, dietitians, therapists, and other experts
on your cancer support team. People you may never meet -- like pathologists and
anesthesiologists -- also help while working behind the scenes.
Having all of these experts on your cancer support team is invaluable. “Each
member of the team can each bring a different perspective to diagnosis and
treatment,” says Terri Ades, MS, APRN-BC, AOCN, director of cancer information
at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. “With more people on your team, you
get more options.”
The Heart of Your Cancer Support Team: Your Doctor and Nurse
First things first: you need to start with a doctor. Usually this will be a
medical or surgical oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating cancer.
Given the stakes, settling on an oncologist can be nerve-wracking. However,
Harold J. Burstein, MD -- a staff oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer
Institute in Boston and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical
School -- urges people not to fret too much.
"The essential part of picking a doctor is finding someone whom you can
trust and with whom you can communicate. If you feel the doctor is being
clear, and understands your needs, that is a good sign. Fortunately, there
are many outstanding physicians around the country. In cancer medicine, as in
most types of complex medical care, experience matters, and clinics or
physicians with extensive familiarity with your kind of cancer can often
provide care with insights not always available everywhere," says
There are other things you should consider. For instance, see a doctor who’s
been recommended, either by your personal physician, family, or friends. Also,
make sure that your doctor has a lot of experience in treating your specific
type of cancer. See these related articles about
questions you could ask your doctor and about
what to look for in a specialist before you begin to choose your cancer