By Karen Lee Sobol
I used to think of hospitals as halls of science. But recently I learned the word “clinic” comes from the Greek, meaning “bedside art.” While we’d all rather avoid a visit to a cancer clinic, there’s a lot we can do to make the first visit a productive, positive experience.
For my first visit to Dana-Farber, my husband joined me, along with my own wild emotions—anxiety, fear, and fury among them—and four pages of questions.
I found that at that first visit, an oncologist gets to know you in two ways: clinically and personally.
Let’s look at the clinical component first. To help your oncologist prepare for meeting you, the more information you submit in advance, the more efficient your visit will be. You cancer center may send you instructions on how to prepare for your first appointment, but here are some additional tips.
- Bring a list of any drugs you’re taking, both prescription and over-the-counter. Be sure to include vitamins, minerals, and supplements.
- Organize copies of your information in a loose-leaf binder with pockets. It will become a handy reference kit. Include a written list of questions about your diagnosis and treatment options.
- Ask a family member or friend to accompany you.
Along with our medical records, we bring our personalities. When you and the oncologist meet, you and he or she will also gain a sense of each other, as people. This is not the time to be shy. Express your concerns. Ask questions. Your companion can jot down the responses.
Do you feel comfortable with this oncologist? Can you communicate with ease? Mutual trust and respect between you and your oncologist rest at the core of your care. For me, it was essential to find a specialist in my disease who saw me as a person first, then as a patient.
Medicine, like art, is a creative process and a team effort between us and our care teams. Working together, we can achieve amazing results.
Karen Lee Sobol is the author of Twelve Weeks: An Artist’s Story of Cancer, Healing, and Hope.