Planning Your Oncology Clinic Visits

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Planning Your Oncology Clinic Visits

Prepare ahead for your oncology appointment. istockphoto.com

It may sound simple, but it's surprising how often oncology visits are cut short because the oncologist doesn't have enough information to properly discuss your options. In order to avoid heart-wrenching delays, try to bring all of the information your oncologist will need to best assess your situation and make recommendations.

What do you need to bring?

  • Medical records - Bring copies of all records from doctors you have seen leading to your appointment with your oncologist  It is a good idea to begin keeping copies of your records as soon as possible after your diagnosis. Ask your oncology nurse to make copies so that you can keep your own copies. Check out these articles on how to get copies of your medical records and how to keep track of your medical records.
  • Lab results - Not only can bringing copies of labs you have had done expedite your care but can help you avoid the cost of having tests repeated unnecessarily.
  • Imaging studies - Bring copies of all x-ray studies, CT scans, MRI's, PET scans, etc. with you. Many physicians will want not just a copy of the report, but a copy of the actual scan. When you have imaging studies done, ask for a CD of the films that you can carry with you.

Check out this article on what to bring for health care visits for cancer.

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Bring Someone With You

Have someone accompany you for your clinic visits. istockphoto.com

There are many reasons why it's a good idea to bring a friend or family member with you to your oncology appointments.

One reason is simply the emotional support your friend can offer  One of the greatest fears of cancer patients is facing their journey alone. Difficult news may be a bit easier to swallow when you can share it with a loved one. And, on the other hand, good news is that much better when you can share it with another.

Another reason to bring a friend is to bring another voice. Your companion may think of questions to ask that you hadn't thought of (but likely would later on) and may help by asking the difficult questions you might hesitate to ask.

Yet another reason to have someone accompany you is to bring another set of ears. Visits with your oncologist are often emotionally stressful, and it is easy to forget vital bits of information. Bringing a friend to listen - and ideally, take notes as well - is one way of ensuring you not only ask the questions you want to ask but remember the answers.

A friend can also act as your advocate. We all want our oncologists to like us, and many people are reluctant to ask for repeated clarification of issues we don't quite understand lest we be "problem patients." Having a friend with allows you to be the "nice" patient, while still addressing issues you may not bring up on your own.

If you feel hesitant about disrupting your friend's routine by asking her to come with you to visits, think again. Friends want to help and having a friend with cancer can leave them feeling helpless.  I look back very fondly on my chemotherapy days.I brought a different friend with to each session (it required some travel) and viewed it as an opportunity to grow our friendship. A few friends have told me they miss those days, and the chance to spend time together without distractions (other than the chemotherapy, that is) and the closeness that developed as barriers to deeper conversation were removed by the gravity of a diagnosis of cancer.

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Bring a List of Questions

Prepare a list of questions for your doctor. istockphoto.com

Prepare a list of questions you wish to ask at your appointment. You may think you will remember your questions, but if you are like many people, even the most pressing questions can be forgotten as you talk with your oncologist.

It may be helpful to keep a notebook on hand, and when questions arise between visits, write them down for your next visit. 

I've heard some people say they think their doctor would be "put out" by coming with a list of questions, but that is not the case. Oncologists welcome questions. They appreciate the time people put into preparing questions, and it is also a way to make sure they are addressing your greatest concerns.

If you are having difficulty thinking of questions, here are some questions to ask your doctor about lung cancer.

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Be Patient and Kind

Being patient at the oncologist's office. istockphoto.com

 One definition of chaos is unpredictable behavior - and where is that behavior more evident than at the oncology clinic? Certainly, you may feel anxious - being a bit nervous when you go in for a cancer appointment is normal, but keep in mind that you are not alone. The other people in the waiting room - some, who will not be as patient as you - are also nervous.  And though the receptionists and nurses often try to be a calm in the storm, they are only human.  If you are feeling impatient, keep this quote in mind:

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about."  - Wendy Mass, The Candymakers

With regard to your own care, presenting your patient and kind side can go a long way as well.  The old adage, "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar," is as true at the oncology clinic as anywhere. You may even consider that - feeling your calm support - your doctor may wish to spend more time with you.  

Being patient and kind does not mean being a doormat. It does not mean a lack of assertiveness or failing to be your own advocate. Check out these tips on being your own advocate as a cancer patient

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Leave Your Visit With a Plan

Leave your appointment with a plan. istockphoto.com

 Before you leave your doctor's office, check to make sure you have a plan.  Consider these questions:

  • When is your next appointment?
  • Who should you call if you have questions before your next appointment?
  • Go over your list of questions Have they all been answered?
  • What lab tests and imaging studies have been scheduled? Where and when will they be done? Check your calendar to make sure you have no conflicts - it is often easier to change these appointments when you are present in the office, than if you need to call back when you return home.
  • Find out how you will get the results of any tests that are done. Will the office call you?  Will you need to return to the office to hear the results? Check out these tips on coping with "scanxiety" - the anxiety many people with cancer feel as they wait for results.
  • Briefly review any changes in your treatment plan. Are there any side effects you should be aware of? When should these side effects prompt you to call your oncologist?

Sources:

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Cancer.Net. Questions to Ask Your Health Care Team. Updated 03/2016. http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/diagnosing-cancer/questions-ask-your-health-care-team

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