Breast Cancer? What's Next? Preparing for Your First Oncology Visit

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You have just been diagnosed with breast cancer and now you face the daunting task of meeting with your oncologist for the first time. Most breast cancer patients have a wild array of feelings that overwhelm them, including fear, anger, hope, inadequacy, and more fear. It feels like insanity, but please know that this is normal. Here are some ideas that can make this appointment productive:

As with any initial consultation with a physician, it is important to bring a list of your current information, information about your family history of cancer, and any insurance information.

Bring someone with you to the initial appointment and as many appointments thereafter as possible. I refer to this person as a chemo buddy. You may feel like you can handle your appointments on your own, but there is a lot of information shared in the first appointment. Your mind will only retain a fraction of it. Having your chemo buddy taking notes will help you refer back to the discussion. Also, as you struggle with fatigue during the chemo and / or radiation process, you will want someone to help you remember details the oncologist tells you. This is not the time to be a Lone Ranger!

Have your chemo buddy bring a notebook to the appointments. The notebook is for you to write down the questions you want to ask the oncologist, with space for answers and information. It should also have space for you to store any documentation, such as pathology reports, test results, and summaries of your appointments. If you are creative, decorating the front of the journal will be a great art project. Or if you have an artistic loved one, ask them to create a beautiful cover for your journal. People want to support during this difficult time.

There are many questions that may be running through your mind, but the following are some of the key questions to ask during the initial appointment:
• What type of breast cancer do I have?
• What stage is my breast cancer?
• What treatment do you recommend for me?
• How will these treatments affect my five-year survival rate?
• What are the side effects of these treatments? How will having them alter my daily life?
• How quickly do I need to make decisions about my treatment?

It is important for you to pay attention to how you feel during the appointment. This physician will be a key player in your treatment. Do you feel comfortable asking questions? Do you feel like he / she answered your questions in a way you could understand? Do you feel like he / she listened to any concerns you voiced during the appointment? If you have any concerns on these points, it is a good idea to get a second opinion. This will give you peace of mind and help you to decide if the oncologist is a good fit for you.

Finally, reach out to support services available to you, including nursing services, breast cancer support groups, and other breast cancer survivors. This journey is demanding, but you do not have to travel it alone.

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