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Building Your Team

After a cancer diagnosis, you can feel very alone and very vulnerable. But you will soon gather one of your strongest weapons in the fight for good health, your medical support team. Learn what you can do to make the most of their strengths, and why the most important player on that team...is you.

Your Role
The Players and What They Do
Important Questions To Ask Your Doctor
Understanding Insurance


Your Role

Your doctors will assemble as a team to address your illness and its treatment, but remember that you are the most important member of that team. While the medical professionals will work hard to determine the most effective treatment plan, you will be responsible to a large degree for carrying it out. Your cooperation and feedback are essential to its success. So, work with your team to follow the plan and to be sure that you are getting the support you need.

Make it your goal to be completely comfortable with your doctors. You should feel completely free to ask questions and to expect answers that satisfy your need to know everything possible about your condition and the plans for treating it. As you learn more about cancer and the treatment decisions you and your team need to make, you'll probably find that you have even more questions. Never hesitate to ask for clarification if you don't fully understand what the doctor is telling you.

Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with terms that may come up in your discussions. A useful glossary is available at the WCRC Web site.

You may find it helpful to write down the your questions before keeping your appointments, and to bring something to write on so that you can jot down anwers you might forget. You might even send a note to the doctor before the appointment, listing your questions or outlining your concerns. He or she may not get a chance to read it before he meets with you, but it will be in the chart for reference. Bring someone along with you if you think it would help you to remember what you wanted to ask, or what the doctor tells you. Supportive family and friends are also valuable members of your team.

Your condition is very important to your physicians, all of them, but you need to remember that they see many other patients during a week or a month, and as part of the team, you must take the responsibility for reminding them of any special problem you are having, even if you've talked about it before. ("The problem with nausea I told you about is still there. Is there something else we could try?") Don't wait for them to ask you about it.

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The Players and What They Do

Your team's medical professionals will work together to diagnose and treat your condition, and monitor the results of treatment. You may find a number of people involved in your care, including:

Primary Care Physician - Your Primary Care Physician is most often the doctor whom you know best and who is most familiar with your medical needs. The Primary Care Phyician is usually a family physician, although most internists and pediatricians also provide primary care. This doctor provides continuing, comprehensive medical care and is also responsible for referring you to specialists when necessary, and coordinating and integrating all care and treatment provided to you.

Medical Oncologist - The Medical Oncologist is physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, especially through chemotherapy. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, this cancer specialist manages the use of chemotherapy and often, the overall treatment planning. His understanding of the medications used in treatment, including side effects and possible long term effects, makes him an invaluable member of your team.:

A Gynecologic Oncologist - A Gynecologic Oncologist, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, has had further education and training in the management of patients with gynecologic cancer. This physician provides those diagnostic and therapeutic procedures necessary for the total care of the patent with gynecologic cancer or its complications.

Radiologist - The Radiologist is a physician who is a certified specialist in Radiology. This complex specialty requires at least four years of advanced training after medical school. Board certified radiologists have passed a rigorous examination by the American Board of Radiology in the case of medical doctors, or by the American Osteopathic Board of Radiology for osteopathic doctors. Radiologists use various forms of images (Xray, sound wave, magnetism, etc) to diagnose illnesses and to prescribe or provide treatment.

Radiation Oncologist - A Radiation Oncologist is a Radiologist who specializes in the treatment of diseases, especially cancer, by the use of high energy Xrays.

Surgical Oncologist - A Surgical Oncologist is a surgeon who specializes in the surgical procedures developed for cancer diagnosis and treatment. Those procedures include various techniques of biopsy, surgery to determine the extent of the disease (staging), surgery to remove tumors or tissue, reconstructive surgery, and surgery to aid in the relief of pain.

Nurse-practitioner - Nurse-practitioners are Registered Nurses with advanced education in nursing. Through their education and experience, they are qualified to perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, and in many states, to write prescriptions and order laboratory tests and Xrays. Each state sets regulations for Nurse-practitioners and most Nurse-practitioners are also nationally certified in their specialty.

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Important Questions To Ask Your Doctor

  • What qualifications do you have for treating cancer?
  • Will a specialist be involved in my case?
  • Who will coordinate my treatment?
  • Who do I contact with the questions and concerns that arise during treatment? What is the best way to reach this individual?
  • What kind of cancer do I have? and how advanced is it?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • Which treatments do you recommend and why?
  • Is the objective of treatment to cure the cancer or to control it?
  • What are the possible side effects of treatment?
  • What will be the frequency and duration of the treatment(s)?
  • Is there anything I can do to prepare myself for treatment?
  • What is the advantage of surgery versus radiation therapy?
  • Why or why not, will a staging surgery be performed?
  • Is adjuvant chemotherapy with radiation therapy beneficial?
  • How might I expect my life to change during treatment?
  • What changes will I need to make at work and/or in my family to accomodate my treatment(s)
  • What medication(s) do you recommend? and what are they for?
  • What are the potential side effects of the medication(s)?
  • Are there symptoms or problems I should report immediately?
  • How likely is it my cancer will reoccur after treatment?
  • What costs will I incure for treatment?
  • Are there specific foods or beverages I should include or avoid?
  • Will I still be able to have children after treatment?
  • What support services or groups are available in my area?

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