Oncologist, who are you?
At CQ, we thought it important to help you understand the role oncology and oncologists play in you and your loved ones care.
We will help you understand that there are multiple types of oncologists, how important it is to get organized prior to your first appointment, how to self-advocate, ask the right questions, and take control of your care.
Think about our wheel for a second:
There is a reason all sections are an equal size. The point we want to emphasis is that oncology will play a major, important, vital role in your care, but again, it is just one of many very important aspects to your overall well-being, care, and journey. It is easy to think that it's the only section.
If you are diagnosed with cancer, you will see an oncologist. As the WebMD article outlines, an oncologist is the cancer specialist you’ll see most often. Usually your oncologist will oversee your general care and coordinate treatments with other specialists. Your oncologist will also be in charge of chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy (all various types of treatments). You’ll likely visit your medical oncologist for long-term, regular checkups.
Oncologists can be intimidating. In many cases they are your 'main doctor', have a team of nurses, wear a white coat, are experts in their field, and can be very serious and straightforward. That is their role. To discuss your diagnosis, review x-rays, CT scans, prescribe medicines and give you the honest truth.
They outline treatments and help you set a game plan. They will discuss clinical trials and new research with you.
Because of this, appointments with oncologists can be a bit overwhelming. But not to worry, we are here to help you prepare. Just by knowing this going in, you will already be a bit better off.
It is important to establish a good relationship with your oncologist. Their expertise, demeanor, and bed-side manner, are all important in your care. You want someone respected, someone with experience, but someone who will also take the time to answer your questions.
Remember: you are paying for your care. Just like if you don't like your financial advisor, you get a new one. If you don't like your oncologist, you can find one that suits your needs.
We also highly recommend getting a second opinion. This can be in the form of an actual formal in-person visit, or it can be sending tests results, lab work, scans, to another trusted doctor. These days, some oncologists are willing to consult via email or over the phone - but with some legal restrictions.
Oncologists are some of the most expert, highly-regarded, well-respected, and well-educated doctors out there. We have the upmost respect for them. But keep in mind - they are human. They don't know everything about everything and they make mistakes. Just like we all do.
Not to mention, they see multiple patients. You are not their only patient. (If you are, this might be worth asking why and finding someone more qualified).
Because of this, it's important to remember that no one will advocate for you, like you will.
Advocate for yourself. No one else will.
What do we mean by this? We mean prepare, research, ask questions of your medical team. If you are feeling overwhelmed and don't know the right questions to ask, talk to us - we can help. Also, refer to our 'First Five' and accompanying blog post for further guidance and insight.
Use our platform to connect with others who have dealt with cancer and are a bit further in their journey. They can offer some very insightful tips and information.
Meet with your family and loved one with cancer prior to all appointments with oncologists. Write down questions - questions that the patient has and would like to ask, and questions the caregivers have. Knowing who will ask which questions helps your stay organized but is also empowering - it helps you feel more in control.
Don't be afraid to speak up. We can help you feel empowered so you can take back control of your care, setting expectations with your medical team, and letting them know where and when they might be falling short of your needs.
Set Boundaries. Think about the wheel.
It's also important to remember our wheel when you think about your oncologist. Set realistic expectations about your oncologist. They are under a lot of pressure and scrutiny, and they don't know everything about everything.
For example, oncologists can help you understand clinical trials, which one you might qualify for, and how to enroll. Does this mean they know about all possible clinical trials being run in the city, state, and country? No, but it's important to begin that dialogue with them. We will have more on clinical trials and research soon.
For another example, supplements (nutritional, dietary) might be extremely helpful and beneficial for your type of cancer and also important for you to take during treatments. However, some oncologists might not be willing to discuss them in great detail since the science is sometimes lacking or convoluted.
But by being prepared on all topics, you can have your oncologist help point you in the right direction. If they are unwilling to talk about a particular topic, ask them where you can find out more information.
Many cancer centers, for example MD Anderson, have many departments and resources at your disposal. They can connect you to a nutritionist on staff, Integrated Medicine, Social Workers and many other very helpful departments. But it is important to have your oncologist shape the landscape of resources available to you. If they don't have an answer, have them point you in the right direction.
And sometimes that might mean pointing you to an external reference - to a third party or organization - that the cancer center's don't always like to give, or offer without inquiring first.
Again, an example here is the organization PanCan (Pancreatic Cancer Action Network). We worked extensively with them during our mom's battle with stage IV pancreatic cancer. They were incredibly helpful and informative. However, no doctor recommended us to them - we found them in our own research.
We hope this helps outline the role oncologists play and how they can be extremely helpful on particular topics, but they don't know everything about everything.
They will discuss treatments (things like chemo, radiation), review scans (CT, X-Rays), discuss how you are feeling, prescribe medicines, and talk to you about your cancer fighting options.
Just remember, they are an important vital part of your care. But not the only part.
- CQ Team
Too Long ; Didn't Read (TL;DR)
Oncologists play a major role in your cancer care. They are extremely important and in many instances will be your primary doctor. Remember to prepare for visits with oncologists, ask questions, advocate for yourself. They know a lot, but not everything. They are a piece, an important piece, to your overall care, but not the only piece.