Action Items for Patients

CURE, Summer 2014, Volume 13, Issue 2

People with cancer can play a major role in managing their illness.

According to an Institute of Medicine report, people with cancer, like people with other chronic conditions, can play a major role in managing their illness—and “information, empowerment and other support” can help them do so more successfully. Many hospitals provide resources, but if they don’t, Christian Boukaram, a radiation oncologist and professor of medicine at the University of Montreal, suggests trying online support available from numerous groups, including the American Cancer Society. Minneapolis oncologist Gail Bender suggests the following tips as “homework” during treatment. These steps can lead to more time for useful and meaningful interaction—and potentially a better therapeutic alliance.

Patients might consider keeping a notebook. Between visits, they can write down any questions that arise. They can then bring the notebook to the next appointment. Bringing a friend or relative might be helpful as well.

Patients should understand their medications and the reasons for taking them. If something is unclear, they should ask. It could be beneficial to make a list of their medications and note how they are working prior to an appointment. In addition, they should check their refill status and ask for new ones as needed.

Patients should discuss any worrisome symptoms. For example, the oncologist might go through a long list of symptoms but not ask about diarrhea. If the patient has diarrhea, it’s important for the patient to tell the oncologist. Keeping a log can help.

Patients should be as direct and succinct as possible when answering a doctor’s questions—and vice versa. The fewer detours in the narrative, the better.