Preparing for appointments and talking with your doctor

Knowing the right questions to ask your cancer care team can help you better understand your diagnosis and your treatment options. Arming yourself with information will help you know as much as possible about your disease, its treatments, and its potential effects on your body. This, in turn, can empower you to take charge and give you a greater sense of control over your health, your life and your survivorship experience. There are several questions that are important to ask depending where you are in your diagnosis and treatment journey.

For a list of key questions to ask your cancer care team, click here. It may be helpful to review these in advance of any appointments and to print and bring them with you so you can be sure to have them asked and answered.  

Equally as important as asking the right questions is understanding and remembering what your doctor or others from your cancer care team said. Appointments with your doctor can be stressful and overwhelming and there are many reasons why people often don’t understand or remember important parts of conversations with their doctor. Here are some useful tips and tools to help make sure that you are getting the most of your appointments and to ensure you are setting yourself up for success in your own self advocacy:

Take notes. Take notes (or have a family member or friend take them) carefully enough so that they’ll make sense to you when you get home. Ask the doctor to repeat something if you weren’t able to get it all down on paper.

Try to picture what is being explained to you. Different people absorb information and learn in different ways. For some people, having visual representations can help them better understand what is being communicated. You can ask your doctor to show you a picture or drawing that will help you understand where your cancer is, how tests will be performed, and how your cancer will be treated. If you can take a copy of the picture or drawing home, it will be easier to explain things to your family.

Ask the doctor to speak and explain things in terms that are understandable to you. Doctors can get stuck in their own “medical speak” which is often unfamiliar or not easily understandable to people who are not health care professionals. Understanding what is being said is key to empowering you to be an effective partner in your treatment and recovery. It’s only after you understand what’s being said that you’ll be an effective partner in your cancer journey.

Ask how you can learn more. Your doctor can refer you to a pamphlet, book, video, or other resource to help you understand the procedure or treatment that is being explained. This may also include connecting with others who have lived through a lung cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Reword your question and/or the doctor’s answer. If you don’t understand the doctor’s answer, you can ask the question in a different way, or ask the doctor to explain the answer in a different way.

Repeat what the doctor said in your own words. Repeat to the doctor what you thought he or she said. That gives the doctor feedback on what you heard and, if necessary, an opportunity to clear up any communication problems.

Use a recording device such as a small tape recorder or your cell phone. You should always ask in advance if your doctor would mind you recording the session. You can explain that it will help you better understand and follow the advice given. Having a recording of your appointment can allow you to be more relaxed when seeing the doctor, since it will free you from taking notes and allow you to listen more carefully to what the doctor is saying. It is still important when recording what your doctor says to remain fully engaged in the conversation by listening to the doctor’s explanations and asking questions when needed.  Recordings of key doctor visits also can help your family. Appointments with your doctor can be overwhelming and no matter how well a doctor communicates, it’s often difficult for a person to fully understand, recall, and explain to someone else exactly what was said. Playing the recording for family members means they (and you) hear the conversation just as it occurred, without “interpreting” or having to recall what you thought was said. The recording can also help out-of-town family stay involved in your cancer care to the extent you feel comfortable. Lastly, you can listen to the recording again and as often as you need, which can help you to better understand and digest the information and conversation you had.

After the appointment

  • Start a file where you can keep copies of all test results, medication, nutrition and therapy tips, and any other information that relates to your type of cancer, treatment or healthcare team.
  • Keep a running list of any questions that occur to you as you move forward, or side effects or problems that develop so you can discuss them with your healthcare team.
  • Talk with your family about what is happening so they have a better understanding of your disease and how it can affect you physically, emotionally, and mentally.
To put it bluntly, I would not be standing here today without innovative therapies or lung cancer research. Since my diagnosis, there have been great advances made in lung cancer research and survivorship. Lung cancer patients are living longer and are getting stronger because of innovative therapies.
Cancer Survivor
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