Choosing the team of physicians that will care for you during your treatments and follow-up can be a hard decision. You are likely still processing your diagnosis at the time you will need to make this decision, but there a few things you might consider that could make the choice a little bit easier.
Do they make you feel secure?
Security is a big deal in cancer treatments. Vulnerability tends to increase during this time so you want to make sure the person that you’re trusting your life and overall well-being with is someone that is going to be responsive to that and treat the situation with the delicacy that it deserves.
When you attend your oncology appointments it’s important to feel safe, protected, and generally heard and answered. There are a million oncologists out there that will be able to quote statistics and most-recent research findings, but if they don’t create an atmosphere that allows you to be open and honest with them, then they might not be for you.
Many people feel like if their doctor gets them healthy then that’s all that matters, but hear me when I say that you need someone that meets your mental and emotional needs as well through this journey. They are not counsellors, but their answers need to be ones that you trust and that you are comfortable with. And if they don’t have the answers to questions you’ve asked or symptoms you’ve presented with, they need to be dilligent enough to send you to someone who will.
Are they willing to spend time with you?
When I look back on my care team and what meant the most to me, it’s time. 100%, without a doubt, time. The people that took the time to listen to me, to try and understand me, and to try and connect with what I was feeling on some level are the people I truly felt like cared about what I was going through and truly cared about seeing me get better. Of course, as a patient you want to respect the fact that your doctors have other patients to see, but pay attention to their mannerisms and body language.
Do they come in and seem relaxed or do they seem rushed? Do they take a seat and physically get on your same eye level or do they stand by the door for most of the appointment? Do they seem truly familiar with your case or are you having to remind them of the details? Do they take their time in listening to what you are struggling with or do they brush it off like you’re making things up or it’s not as bad as it seems?
All of these things are crucial and I do acknowledge that everyone’s needs are differerent, but the feeling of actually being cared for is the generally same across the board.
Do you know other patients that have been treated under their care?
We all know the power of a personal recommendation. Whether it’s which grocery store to shop at, which hair salon to visit, where to shop for clothes, or the best restaurants in town, people talk about the things, places, and people that they have had a good experience with.
With cancer care, it’s not much different. Patients will talk about their doctors that helped them feel better and, even moreso if they helped them feel better quickly. To no surprise, cancer patients that undergo treatment also tend to develop a certain fondness for their care team because they feel like these are the people that “saved their lives,” so make sure to ask specific questions to see if you agree with how they were managed as patients and read between the lines.
Are they good at what they do?
This one probably seems like a no-brainer and I realize many of these suggestions involve feelings rather than expertise, but bottom line is that it all matters. Before considering a particular physician for your oncology care, take the time to do your homework. Read reviews about their achievements, their educational background, their honors and awards. Are they affiliated with specialized organizations for their field? Do they particpate in grants and research? Have they published any papers?(PubMed is a great resource) I could go on, but you get the point. Credentials matter!
Physicians are wonderfully brilliant people on our earth, and I’ll be the first to argue that the majority of physicians go into the profession to care for people with their hearts as well as their souls. But for some it’s all too easy for patients to become charts and numbers when clinic schedules are jammed packed and days are long. And that’s just the facts, unfortunately.
Working in the field, experiencing cancer myself, and also having various family members need oncology care has shown me all sides of the field, so I share this with you to encourage you and empower you to look for the BEST oncologists out there. Look for the ones that provide what YOU need. Every patient is different and will have different needs in each of these areas. I just pray that these few insights above may lead you to think about things differently as you go to make the decision about who will care for you.