When you are diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma, there is a lot to think about. You probably have many questions and are confused as to what this diagnosis means. You might wonder what treatments are available or what your chances of survival are. You might wonder how this is going to affect your day-to-day life and if you have a family, how your spouse and children are going to cope. When first told you have advanced cancer, it is hard to think. You feel overwhelmed and scared.
Once your melanoma has reached stage 4, it is important to start treatment as soon as possible, but you also want to make sure you fully understand your options so you, and your family, can make the best decisions for your situation. Start by writing down all the questions you have. Add any questions that family members or friends suggest. The more information you have, the better you are equipped to make well-informed decisions about your health care.
The following questions are a good place to start. Ignore those that don’t fit your situation and add your own questions to the list.
Questions About Your Diagnosis
- What does stage 4 melanoma mean?
- Do you specialize in this type of cancer or should I see a different doctor? If I should see a different doctor, do you recommend anyone?
- How much experience do you have in treating advanced melanoma?
- Where has the cancer spread to in my body? To what extent?
- What additional testing is needed, if any?
- What is my prognosis?
Questions about Treatment
- What treatments are available?
- What treatment do you recommend? Why?
- What do you expect to happen with this treatment? Is the treatment to rid my body of cancer or to make me feel better for a while?
- How soon do you expect to see results?
- How will we know if the treatment is successful?
- When should treatment begin?
- Do I need to stay in the hospital or is the treatment done as an out-patient?
- How often will I receive treatment?
- How long will the treatment last?
- How often will I have follow-up visits to discuss the progress of the treatment?
- What are the side-effects of the treatment?
- Are there medications or lifestyle changes that help minimize the side-effects?
- Will this treatment affect my ability to have children later?
- Are there signs or symptoms I should be aware of after treatment? What signs or symptoms warrant an immediate call to you?
- How will I feel after treatment?
- How will this treatment affect my day-to-day life?
- Will I be able to work while receiving the treatment? Will I be able to continue daily activities? If not, how soon will I be able to return to daily activities and work?
- Do you have written information on the different treatments I can take home? If not, where can I find additional information?
- How long do I have before I should make a decision?
- What if I choose a different treatment than you recommend?
- What happens if I refuse treatment?
- What other medical professionals will be on my treatment team? Will I be assigned a social worker? What is each person’s job? How can each person help me?
Other Questions You Might Want to Ask
- Are there any clinical trials I can participate in? Where can I find out more about these?
- What are the benefits and risks of participating in a clinical trial?
- Is this treatment covered by my insurance? What will my out-of -pocket costs be?
- Can I get financial assistance to cover my medical costs?
- Can I get a second opinion before deciding on treatment?
- What follow-up treatment is required after treatment is completed?
- What resources are available to me and my family during treatment?
- Are there local support groups?
Ask for an extended appointment with your doctor so you have ample time to discuss your questions and concerns. You might want to bring a family member or close friend to this appointment to help you remember and understand all the answers to your questions.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.