The Biggest Questions You Need To Ask After Your Cancer Diagnosis
After you’ve been diagnosed with cancer you may feel like you’re suddenly plunged underwater. You can swim to the surface, but it’s hard to focus and keep your wits about you in the murky water – in essence, the battle isn’t yet critical but you’re beginning to flounder.
Many people experience a sensation similar to this when they first receive their diagnosis. A flood of emotions hit them all at once and it suddenly becomes hard to think straight and ask the right questions. Don’t panic – if this was you and you feel like you should receive more information about your diagnosis, as well as other key information about life with cancer, then schedule an appointment with an oncologist and keep the following questions in mind.
What kind of cancer do I have? What stage is it?
Having cancer isn’t exactly like having the flu – while you can easily say “I have cancer” just like you can say “I have the flu,” cancer is a much broader term. Having the flu illicit specific symptoms in your mind with no questions asked, but cancers vary drastically. Where is the cancer? Is it serious? Is it a tumorous cancer? Can it be removed? Will it spread? What stage is it currently in right now?
These are all sub-questions that relate to the specific kind of cancer you may have. Also, don’t be embarrassed if you can’t exactly remember the type of cancer you have after the first visit. Many forms of cancer have specific scientific names that aren’t commonly used.
What kind of treatment plan is recommended? What are my treatment options?
The most common forms of cancer treatment are chemotherapy, surgical removal and radiation. Any and all of these methods may be employed to help you treat your specific diagnosis, but some treatments may not work based on the specific type of cancer. Others can’t use some methods of treatment because of preexisting conditions or allergies.
Cancers can also be treated with different levels of severity. Some patients may require chemotherapy multiple times a week in order to keep an aggressive form of cancer at bay, while others may require weekly or biweekly chemo treatments because the cancer isn’t as aggressive.
Based on your specific cancer diagnosis, your oncologist should have a projected treatment method in mind. This may change as the cancer progresses or moves into remission, or even as the treatment team learns new science that can help them treat you. Make sure to ask what your options are – it’s very unlikely that there is only one treatment method available to you, so learn all you can about your options and your doctor’s opinion of them.
What is my long-term prognosis?
This is often the hardest question, but it’s always the most critical to ask after being diagnosed. Cancer isn’t always a death sentence, but it may be terminal or incurable in some cases. As hard as this is to hear, it’s in your best interest to get a prognosis on how your life with cancer can potentially pan out.
This question isn’t just about how long you have left, either – it’s about your quality of life, the severity of the treatment and if the cancer has a potential to come back, thus repeating the cancer cycle over and over. Information like this can help patients determine treatment options, and it can sometimes lead them to refuse treatment.
No matter what decision you make, arm yourself with all of the information possible first – find out how your life will likely go with different treatment options and what the worst case scenarios can possibly be.
What are your credentials? Can I get a second opinion?
An oft forgotten question, it’s important to understand the experience level and educational background of your oncologist. While many can only afford doctors that are local and/or in network, others are afforded the ability to locate other, more educated doctors who can give them a better prognosis.
In any case, whether or not you have to stay with the oncologist recommended to you, learn all you can about their experience and ideology. This can help you put your mind at ease, or can lead you to explore other medical options (like switching in-hospital oncologists to a more seasoned specialist).
If you feel like this doctor’s experience may not give them the best judgment in terms of your cancer prognosis, ask if they recommend a second opinion – or go ahead and get one for yourself.
What about a clinical trial?
Clinical trials are experimental treatment plans that are being tested on patients who have cancer in order to see their treatment results. These can include different methods of radiation, new drugs or even alternative medicines that haven’t been officially sanctioned yet. In some cases, clinical trials show good results and can be what saves a cancer patient’s life.
On the other hand, a clinical trial that doesn’t offer good results can be a waste of time or can even be detrimental to the patient. When asking about clinical trials, also ask for the current statistics and success rates present in order to get a feel for how well the trial is going before committing to it.