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One Word Can Change Your Life – Cancer

“It’s Cancer”, my sister and I tried to compose ourselves and comprehend the

Did he just say that our mom has cancer?

Having worked in hospice for many years, I knew that once the word “cancer” was spoken most of what was said after was lost in translation so I focused on being present to what the doctor was saying next.  The doctor continued, “I feel from what I’ve seen that it’s stage 1 breast cancer, which means we caught it early and I am confident your mom will live a long, healthy life.”

The doctor outlined the next steps and answered all of our questions as well as shared statistics on breast cancer.  From his tone and demeanor I could feel his commitment to curing this disease as well as to my mother sitting before him.  The doctor and his staff were amazing and during the 3 hours it took to run tests, take a biopsy and speak with us, it felt as if my mom was the only patient they had that day.

Sadly, from my years of health care experience, this doctor seems rare.  I have encountered more doctors than I’d like to admit who share a cancer diagnosis with a patient and then abruptly walk out of the room.  Our hospice team had numerous in-services for doctors titled “Breaking Bad News”, however; it was usually the staff who came, many times sharing their frustration at how their doctor does a quick “exit stage left” after dropping the C-bomb on a patient.

I wanted to share some advice for when the doctor shares life changing news:

  1. Ask questions.

  2. If the doctor is using terminology you don’t understand ask him what it means.

  3. If another staff member comes in to answer questions politely request that you would like the doctor answer your questions.

  4. Get an after-hours number to call to ask questions you may come up with after you leave the doctor’s office.  Make sure the phone number connects you with your doctor not an on-call doctor who does not know your family member.

  5. If you feel comfortable with the treatment option set out by the doctor then move forward, however; if you don’t it is OK to say “no”.

  6. Unless it’s a time sensitive situation you don’t have to immediately move forward with the treatment option outlined by the doctor.

  7. Do your research.

  8. Websites like WebMD have a lot of information that can assist in understanding both diagnosis and treatment options.

  9. Call around to disease specific treatment centers and ask questions about their program.

  10. Get a second opinion.

  11. There is nothing wrong with seeking a second (or even third) opinion when given a serious diagnosis.

Focus on gathering information on available options so that you can assist your loved one in making an educated decision about their care.

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