Things to Ask Your Oncologist on the First Visit

by Brian English

The moments after your cancer diagnosis can be a whirlwind. Your mind is racing. It can be quite a shock and one that can take significant time from which to recover. And it’s not only possible but very likely that you’ll still be in a bit of a fog when it’s time to meet your oncologist for the first time.

Things To Ask Your Oncologist On The First Visit

All of it will seem like a blur at the time. But the initial stages of your treatment are critical. And you’ll want to be sure that you show up to that first visit with your oncologist armed with a list of important questions that you’ll need answered.

Your first visit is likely to be with a medical, surgical, or radiation oncologist. It will depend on the type of cancer you have, and the stage of your disease. Regardless of which of these specialists you encounter, all will be able to discuss your treatment options and help you take those first crucial steps.

Soon enough, you’ll be able to describe the particulars of your cancer and its treatment in exhaustive detail that would impress even the most seasoned oncologist. But at that first meeting, you’re going to feel like a deer in the headlights. And we’re hoping the following list will help you be as prepared as possible.

Many WhatNexters say the best thing they did was to take someone with them to the first meeting to help write things down, remember things and even ask some questions, because as your mind starts to rush, it's hard to remember what was said or to ask what you want. Taking a recording device is also a great idea, that way you can have exactly what was said for reference. It's easy to forget, or twist what was said and perhaps not get the real meaning. 

You will have loved ones and friends asking you questions about your cancer, proposed treatment, and lots of details about it that you may not remember. This recording will be valuable to you later. Trust those who have been in your shoes already, you will kick yourself if you don't have this for later use. You may need to ask permission from your Doctor to record the session. 

Bring Your Medical Records
This can be a hassle, but unfortunately, it’s a step you can’t skip. It’s not like you never every single piece of your medical records, but at the bare minimum, you’ll need:

Medical Records

1. CD of any scans
2. Pathology and radiology reports
3. Create a timeline of events leading up to your diagnosis
4. A list of medicines you take – and include everything: over-the-counter drugs, prescriptions, vitamins, herbs, supplements. You need this to avoid any drug interactions.

Don’t Go to the Appointment Alone
It’s important that you don’t go to your visit alone. You’ll need a backup to help you digest the Niagra of information that’s coming your way. You’ll need support.

WhatNexter BoiseB remembers that she went into her first oncologist visit assuming that the discussion would be about hospice. “But my brother took charge of the appointment and turned that all around,” she writes.

A friend, a loved one … it doesn’t matter who. Bring someone.

Bring a List of Questions – and Ask Them All
When you have cancer, there’s no such thing as a stupid question. So ask your oncologist anything you want. It’s your right as a patient.

“Until cancer, I always nodded and went with what the doctor said,” writes WhatNexter Janetspringer. “With cancer, I had to learn to ask questions and be my own advocate.”

Ejourneys from the WhatNext forum writes that “the best question I asked my oncologist was, ‘How long to I have before you need my decision?’”

Carool was even more direct: “I asked my oncologist what my prognosis was,” she writes. “I don’t recommend always asking that, but I had to, knowing that no prediction about this is always accurate.”

There’s never a complete list of questions to ask, but be sure to find out about:

* Potential risks/side effects of treatment
* Length of treatment
* Other treatment options
* Do you qualify for a clinical trial?
* Who should you call with any additional questions after treatment
* You might even want to ask about a second opinion

List Of Questions

Get Treatment Recommendations in Writing
Cancer treatments have a lot of technical names – many of which sound similar. You will want to get on the Internet and check them out. So write down what your oncologist is planning. Drug names, amounts, frequency – write it all down or ask for a printed copy from the doctor . This is especially helpful if you plan on getting a second opinion.

Be honest and Open to Options
This is the time to let it all hang out. If you have fears about treatment methods, you want to explore alternate treatments, or if you’re skeptical about anything you hear – be sure you say so. Don’t tap dance around the issues.

By the same token, you need to be open to options. If your oncologist is suggestion a certain method, take the time to hear them out and get the details.

Of all the tips and recommendations that cancer patients pass on to those who are just diagnosed, the most common is to take someone with you, and keep a recording and notes of the visit. These you will use many times as you move down the treatments road. 

If you have other suggestions for questions to ask on your first oncologist visit, let the WhatNext community know.

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