One of the most difficult aspects for anyone in dealing with breast cancer is handling the medical aspects that one faces. I clearly remember the first time that I had a dialogue with my primary care physician who had indicated that she was pretty sure that the lump that I found was cancer. My mind went blank and as much as I was pretty sure that I already knew that, I still believe I was in shock. From that moment on, right through my coming out of anesthesia after a lumpectomy, I was operating in a complete void, merely moving from appointment to appointment, test to test and showing up when and where I was told to go.
I blindly went where I was led and it wasn't until I was trying to regain a sense of being present while someone was explaining to me in my anesthetic fog about how I was to handle and care for my drain tube did I realize that I was totally unprepared for what I was to do and had no real understanding about how I had arrived at the point where a major part of my right breast had been chunked out with an ugly scar staring at me whenever I looked in the mirror. But as I had a lot of free time to think and reflect as I recovered from this first surgery, I promised myself that I would never be in that position again. I wanted to know exactly what to expect, what options I had with regard to all aspect of my treatments and wanted to have a voice in decision making whenever possible and appropriate. And boy, did I ever get that opportunity from day one of my first meeting with my appointed oncologist.
While I could write forever with regard to my own experiences at that time and what occurred after my second diagnosis that was followed by a double mastectomy and reconstruction, what I learned along the way taught me so very much about having to be my own advocate and searching for as much information as I could find to help me. What I did learn that became of prime importance was that my time with the members of my medical team was everything. But just like everything else that was so new to me in the world of breast cancer, I really had no idea about how to best manage this time and I was pretty sure that I was not alone.
As with everything else, I had to start my research and sure enough, I found a site that has shared the results of a survey that was conducted with representatives from the advanced breast cancer community, oncologists and caregivers. It seems that many others shared my same concerns about having enough time when meeting with our medical team members to have our questions and concerns addressed. And because most of us are facing all of these questions and variables for the first time, not only do we need to have our questions answered if we ask them but also patients need for their doctors to inform us about issues, expectations and options of which we would have no knowledge.
The questions that need to be addressed change as we move from diagnosis to initial treatment to changes in our treatment. Hopefully, either, we as patients, or in conjunction with our caregivers and/or other support person will be able to make a list of questions that we have at each stage of our treatment. If we don't know what to ask, perhaps we can at least ask general questions like what we might expect and what, if any, options we may have. No one should feel pressured to make a decision on the spot about such things as treatment options if you are not informed and hopefully you will be willing to do some research on your own or get a second opinion. And if you discover other options that were not presented, you should not hesitate to ask your doctor about them. After all, doctors can't be expected to be up-to-date on every new thing that is occurring in the world of breast cancer, especially when it comes to alternative treatments for advanced breast cancer patients so such matters should be brought to their attention. Hopefully, your doctor will be willing to look into the matter and work with you to determine whether it will be a viable option for your particular type of cancer and your current circumstances.
The single biggest factor in a person's breast cancer treatment at any stage is to have a team of professionals with whom you feel comfortable and who you believe are providing you with the best care, options and solutions available to you. The peace of mind that comes with such trust in your team is immeasurable. However, if at any point you feel that you are not receiving the info that you need or that you are not being given the time and attention that you need in order to make responsible decisions, etc., you should always request a second opinion or another professional with whom you can interact. This is your life, your treatment and your own personal concerns and issues and there will never, ever be another person at any level who will be more vested in your health and your treatment outcomes than you. Therefore, do not settle for anything less than the satisfaction that you are receiving the best of everything that is available to you and if you find that you do not feel this way, then be sure to summons the courage to make the necessary changes that will bring to you that level of satisfaction about the care and treatment that you are receiving.