Here are ten questions we learned to ask our oncologist. With these questions, you will have the tools you need to understand your situation, evaluate your doctor, and move forward with confidence!
1. What type of cancer do I have, how is it staged, and what does that mean?
You want to make sure you understand your current state. This is an uncomfortable conversation…and it's uncomfortable for the doctor as well. There is a risk that they assume you understand more than you do…and you may feel uncomfortable asking for more details.
Push through that discomfort and make sure you understand the details of your diagnosis.
2. What is your history treating patients with a similar diagnosis?
This is SUCH an important question.
It can feel like challenging or insulting the doctor to question their history/background. Don't worry about that, they should be relieved that you are asking…because it means you are taking this relationship seriously.
You want to understand, when they provide an opinion, is it because of research they have done, or research backed by their experiences?
3. What are your thoughts on a holistic approach to cancer treatment? (diet changes, supplementation, etc.)
This will help you understand their level of "thinking outside the box" mentality that can be vital to a holistic approach to health.
The first Oncologist we met with, in response to this question, she said, and it's burned into our memory "I don't care what you want to do, if it makes you feel better to do it, as long as it doesn't get in the way of my treatment plan, go for it".
We walked out of there at our most discouraged and never went back.
4. What does your experience tell you about the prognosis for my specific diagnosis?
Again, this can be an uncomfortable conversation for the doctor too, and they are trying to gauge your emotional state and may avoid hard truths about their "actual" perspective for the sake of your mental health.
Push through that with them and get them to share their "blunt" perspective. How they communicate that will tell you a lot about their experience as well as their heart towards you as a human.
5. What do you recommend for treatment, and why?
What you want from this question is to see some creativity, some thoughtful assessment of your situation, the information you've discussed so far, and a number of options and things to consider.
What you don't want to hear is something canned that they say to everyone that sits across from them.
6. What should I expect as side-effects related to your recommended treatment?
It's important to understand what it will be like to go through treatment. Your oncologist should take the time to educate you on what to expect!
7. What are reasonable expectations for treatment results? What is our best case scenario?
The goal is ALWAYS full healing, no more cancer treatment. Oncologists don't think that way though, they think in statistics, their own experience, and reasonable expectations.
Get their realistic thoughts…but remember that it's just that: their thoughts. If it feels more negative than you expected, don't let that steal your hope.
Let it inform your plan, nothing more.
8. What would you do if this was your diagnosis and money was no object?
We found this to be so important when meeting with the many doctors we did soon after Rachel's diagnosis.
It became clear that doctors were used to building a plan based upon what insurance would cover.
This question allows them to think about your situation from another angle: Take money out of it, what combination of things would be best?
9. What tests that we haven't discussed yet would help us better understand my specific cancer, prognosis, and treatment options?
Again, we found that the "normal" conversation stayed at a certain level of simplicity, based on reducing financial burden.
That being said, we learned of many specific genetic, blood, and tumor tests that helped inform our plan and understand Rachel's cancer in more detail.
We only learned of these tests by asking this question.
10. What is next?
Get specific. Get a plan. When we walk out of this room, what should we expect? A call from your coordinator? Scans to get scheduled? Starting treatment? The conversation WILL feel overwhelming at times. This last step allows for some grounding in reality and a specific plan of attack that you can hold to as you walk out the door.