Having cancer means spending lots of time in medical appointments, and every appointment is important. Unfortunately, these appointments can be frustrating. It’s easy to feel like your doctor isn’t listening to you. Sometimes it can be hard to understand everything your doctor is saying. This results in ineffective medical care. Thankfully, a few small changes can make a big difference in the care you receive. For the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at some of these changes. Let’s start with what you can do ahead of time, to get the most benefit from every appointment. Start with the three Ts: time, transportation, and a trusted friend.
Begin with the Basics: Making the appointment
Whether you make your appointment in person or over the phone, verify that the contact information the clinic has on file for you is up to date. They will likely do this as a matter of routine, but just in case they forget double check. If the doctor has to change the appointment or get in touch with you for any reason, this ensures they can. Also, keep in mind that if you decide to block unrecognized callers, your clinic may not get through to you.
When scheduling your appointment, make sure it’s when you have time, transportation, and a trusted friend.
One of the easiest things you can do to make your appointments effective is to keep them. The appointment schedules of oncology offices are often booked up several weeks out. Missing an appointment can really throw your care schedule off, since you may need to wait that long for another appointment slot to open up.
Always schedule your appointment when you have plenty of time. When you write the appointment into your calendar, be sure to schedule travel time as well. Take into account traffic and other unforeseen things that can make a person late. You don’t want to feel rushed, trying to get to your appointment.
Leave extra time at the tail end of the appointment, as well. Doctors often run late. Sometimes, extra tests or other changes in the appointment may cause it to run longer than expected. You will feel far less pressure if time isn’t an issue.
Often, you can drive yourself to your appointments. However, many procedures include sedation or other medications that can affect your ability to drive safely. When making your appointment, ask if it will be safe for you to drive that day. If there is a chance that you won’t be able to drive, arrange for alternative transportation. The best option is your spouse or caregiver. Not only can they get you safely to and from your appointment, but they can also take care of the third “T.”
Your trusted friend can provide transportation to and from your appointment, but there is another reason to have them come along to your appointment, if possible. They are your advocate as well as a second set of eyes and ears.
Good communication is important from the very start. Yet, things like treatment side effects, stress, normal forgetfulness, and communication problems can all reduce the effectiveness of these appointments. It can be hard to later recall everything that was said during your appointment.
Having a second set of eyes and ears at each appointment, even those that are “routine,” is extremely beneficial. When they accompany you to your appointment they can take notes while the doctor talks. They can also ask for clarification if something the doctor says is difficult to understand. Often, patients hesitate to do this. In this role, a spouse, caregiver, or trusted friend is also an advocate. Let’s look at this last “T” a little more in-depth.
Some important things to consider
Decide in advance exactly what role your friend will play. The nature of your relationship will be one of the factors in this decision.
- If they’re your spouse, do you customarily make decisions together?
- Do you want their input into the decisions you make regarding your cancer treatment?
- If so, how much input?
- Would you like them to have a voice in these appointments? This can help them advocate for you.
Expect to sign a form giving the doctor permission to speak freely in front of them. You can also give the clinic permission to speak to them over the phone. This is helpful if you become ill and they need to get call the doctor on your behalf.
Some people make decisions together. This is the way my husband has chosen to approach his cancer treatment. I’m thankful for that because I feel more comfortable being able to advocate on his behalf. For us, this works, because he’s been very open and clear about his health care choices from the very beginning. At times, those choices have evolved, but I always know where he stands and I will respect that.
I have known other couples who have taken a different approach. Sometimes it’s important for a patient to feel more autonomous with their care. Outside of marital relationships, this will be even more common. However, you choose to walk this journey is up to you. You will likely use a mixture of the two approaches.
This is YOUR appointment. It’s important for family and friends to respect your choices, no matter how you came to them. Your spouse or trusted friend may not make the same decisions if they were in your place, and that’s okay. They still need to respect you, your boundaries, and the way you intend to approach your health care. It’s important for you to maintain as much control over your life as possible. This is one of the reasons it’s important for you to have a health care directive/advance directive/living will. The choices outlined in the directive should be shared with your family and friends, especially your caregiver.
A note from a caregiver, spouse, and trusted friend:
Keep in mind, that even though it is your cancer and the choices pertaining to your medical care are ultimately yours, they still affect your loved ones in deeply impactful ways. It’s hard to be a spouse, parent, child, best friend and watch a loved one go through a cancer battle. It’s a helpless feeling. Hopefully, your loved ones will be able to put any pain or fear aside in order to support you fully. This is a hard thing to do, though. Sometimes we slip. We mess up. The fear overwhelms us. Please forgive us any foolish, selfish things we might say or do.
Now that you have your appointment scheduled for when you have time, transportation, and a trusted friend, you are ready for your appointment. Next week, we’ll start with some of the routine questions you’ll be asked by the oncology nurse.
What are YOUR thoughts?
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I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.
My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com.