The more you feel that you can openly discuss any matters of concern with your health care team, the better you are likely to feel about your care over the long term.
Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask questions—always seek the care you need and deserve. Here are some additional topics to discuss with your health care team:
Side effects. Chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, targeted treatments, hormonal therapy and other cancer treatments may all result in different side effects. Most side effects can be prevented or managed with medications and other techniques. Some common and often manageable side effects include:
- Fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hair loss
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Mouth sores
- Rash and other skin changes
- Neutropenia (low white blood cell count that puts you at risk of infection)
- Lymphedema (swelling, usually of an arm or leg)
- Neuropathy (nerve damage often resulting in periodic numbness in the hands and feet)
Talk with your doctor about any side effects or symptoms that come up. Some patients worry that if they bring up a side effect, their doctor will be distracted from treating the cancer; that is not true. Side effect management is an important part of comprehensive cancer care. Managing symptoms will make it easier for you to stick with your treatment plan.
Your feelings and emotions. Often, people need help coping with challenging emotions raised by cancer, such as sadness, anger or fear. While family members and friends are likely to be your main source of support, you may want to seek additional help. If so, your doctor or nurse can refer you to an oncology social worker, counselor or other professional who specializes in helping people cope with the emotional challenges of cancer.
Support groups connect you with others in a similar situation to share experiences and feelings and provide support. Ask your health care team if there are local support groups that would give you an opportunity to speak with other patients in a similar situation. CancerCare offers free support services such as telephone and online support groups. You may also want to explore peer-to-peer networks, which match you individually with someone facing the same (or similar) diagnosis.
Practical matters. Experts agree that the highest-quality care for people with cancer is care that addresses not just their medical needs, but their psychosocial needs as well. Psychosocial support refers to services that address emotional concerns, as described on the previous page, and practical issues that can interfere with completing treatment. It also includes providing support with day-to-day concerns so you can have the best quality of life during treatment. Some of the many practical issues your health care team may be able to help you with include:
- Getting transportation to and from treatment
- Talking to your children about your diagnosis
- Deciding whether you should, timing and how to talk with your employer about your diagnosis
- Adjusting a treatment schedule to attend a special event
- Finding financial help for medications or household bills
- Locating home care or other services
The members of your health care team can assist you directly with many practical matters and/or refer you to other support services as necessary.
Resources for caregivers and family members. A cancer diagnosis often causes a ripple effect, impacting loved ones and family members. To help ensure that the needs of your loved ones are met, ask your doctor about resources available to them. For example, CancerCare provides specialized support services for children and teens to help them understand and cope with a loved one’s cancer diagnosis. Also, young adults (ages 20–39) that have a loved one with cancer can join an online support group led by an oncology social worker at CancerCare. CancerCare also provides free services including case management and support groups available by telephone and online throughout the country and individual counseling within New York and New Jersey.
Your post-treatment survivorship care plan. As you get close to completing treatment, it is important that you and your medical team discuss what your follow up care will be like. In the months and years ahead, your doctors will continue to monitor you for any long-term side effects of your treatment. They will also check for symptoms of recurrence (a return of your cancer), spread or of new cancers developing.
To manage your follow-up care, ask your doctor to put together a written survivorship care plan. This document should include a summary of your diagnosis and all the treatments you received, as well as a follow-up plan of the steps you need to take to achieve the best health and well-being possible. For details about specific items to include in your plan, read CancerCare’s booklet “After Treatment Ends: Tools for the Adult Cancer Survivor.”