10 Tips for Talking to Your Doctor When You Have Skin Cancer

Health Writer
iStock

When you are diagnosed with skin cancer, your first reaction is probably fear and uncertainty — you don’t know what to expect. Talking to your doctor is one of the most important steps you can take to make sure you receive the treatment you need and understand both the process and your prognosis. According to an article in Health Policy Briefs, “People actively involved in their health and health care tend to have better outcomes.”

For many, the idea of talking to and questioning your doctor is frightening. This is especially true for older adults, who grew up in an era where doctors were followed and rarely questioned. Today, most doctors see their relationship with their patient as a partnership of experts — they are the experts as far as health information and you, the patient, are the expert on you and your body. Your doctor wants to know about your questions, your concerns and how you are feeling about both your diagnosis and your treatment. In recent years, we have learned that emotional health is important to recovery. When you have concerns or questions that go unasked, it can interfere with your treatment.

These ten tips are designed to make talking to your doctor easier.

1.) When you first receive a diagnosis of skin cancer, start a “Skin Cancer Notebook.”

Keep track of your symptoms, side effects of treatments, and your emotional health. If you have doctor’s appointments that are weeks or months apart, it can be hard to remember what happened, how you felt or what symptoms were most bothersome. Writing information down on a regular basis provides you and your doctor an accurate look at the progress of your disease.

2.) Write down questions and concerns in your notebook.

Suppose you are reading information about skin cancer and find out about a new treatment. You wonder if it would work for you. Several weeks later when you are in the doctor’s office, you completely forget your questions. By writing questions, comments and concerns down in your notebook, you assure yourself that you will remember to ask.

3.) Talk about all symptoms.

You might think that some symptoms are insignificant or you might be embarrassed over other symptoms. No matter what your symptoms, you will receive the best possible treatment if your doctor knows exactly what is going on. Be sure to explain what symptoms you are having, when they started, how painful they are and whether they interfere with your daily life.

4.) Take notes during office visits.

Use your notebook to take notes on what your doctor says, what your treatment options are and answers to questions. It is easy to forget what was said once you get home and are distracted by daily life. Having a written record of what was said gives you a way to refer back and then write down follow up questions later.

5.) Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Your doctor is probably busy and trying to convey a lot of information in a little amount of time, but that doesn’t mean he won’t slow down to explain something to you. If you don’t ask questions, he is going to assume you understand and are following what he is saying. Your doctor wants you to know what is going on and that means he wants you to ask questions.

6.) Ask your most important questions first.

If you have started keeping a notebook, you should have a list of questions to discuss. Put a star next to two or three that you think are most important. Be sure to ask these questions first so you are sure you have enough time to have them fully answered.

7.) Discuss obstacles that might be stopping you from getting the health care you need.

You might have trouble with transportation, not have health insurance or be worried about the cost of treatment. If you openly discuss what is holding you back from getting health care, your doctor might be able to offer some help. He might know resources in the area that can provide transportation, have sample medication if you can’t afford prescriptions, or offer payment plans or discounts for treatment.

8.) Bring someone with you.

If you have a hard time talking to your doctor or forget what was said once the appointment is over, you can bring a friend or relative with you. This person can be in charge of taking notes and going through your notebook to make sure all your questions are answered. Or, you might want someone with you to offer emotional support.

9.) Ask if medical records and test results are available online.

This gives you the opportunity to review the information prior to your next appointment and make notes or write down questions to prepare for your next appointment.

10.) Ask the doctor (or staff) what method is best to contact the doctor in between appointments.

You might be able to email your doctor questions in between appointments or he might have certain times of day when he accepts non-emergency phone calls to provide information. You shouldn’t have to wait until your next appointment if you have questions.

Remember, if you are looking up information online about skin cancer, much of the information is general in nature. While the internet can be a valuable source of information, don’t use it as a way to self-diagnose or make decisions about your treatment. Do use it to start conversations with your doctor and request further information about topics related to your care. Skin cancer can be a complicated disease. Make sure you fully understand what is going on throughout the course of your treatment.

For more information on Skin Cancer:

Ten Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Skin Cancer

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Mohs Surgery

How to Check Your Skin for Skin Cancer