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Communicating With Your Healthcare Team FAQs

Updated March 23, 2010

When my doctor told me I had breast cancer, my mind went blank and I didn’t understand anything else she said. Now I’m afraid to ask her to repeat everything again.

I want to take an active role in choosing my treatments with my doctor, but I don’t even know what to ask to get the information I need.

My doctor doesn’t seem to have time to answer any of my questions, and I feel like I’m being rushed into making certain treatment decisions. What can I do to make things better?

Q: When my doctor told me I had breast cancer, my mind went blank and I didn’t understand anything else she said. Now I’m afraid to ask her to repeat everything again.

A: Most women find it difficult to take in all the information they get from their doctors – especially when first diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s OK to ask your doctor to repeat information, and it’s also important to develop effective strategies for asking questions and getting information from your doctors as you go through your breast cancer treatment. Some ideas to try:

  • Write down your questions ahead of time and bring the list to each appointment.
  • If there is not enough time to get all of your questions answered during an appointment, ask your doctor what the best way would be to get answers: by phone, e-mail, making another appointment, etc.
  • Write down your doctor’s answers to your questions.
  • Bring a friend or family member to appointments to help ask questions and remember or write down important information.
  • Ask your doctor if you can bring a tape recorder to appointments, so you can go back and listen later.

Q: I want to take an active role in choosing my treatments with my doctor, but I don’t even know what to ask to get the information I need.

A: There’s so much to ask about when you’re first diagnosed with breast cancer – it can feel overwhelming. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • May I have a copy of my pathology report? Please explain what this report means.
  • Is my cancer in my lymph nodes or other organs?
  • What is the stage of my cancer? What does that mean in my case?
  • What treatment choices do I have? What do you recommend? Why?
  • Am I eligible for any clinical research studies?

Find a more complete list in LBBC’s Guide for the Newly Diagnosed and Guide to Understanding Treatment Decisions.

Q: My doctor doesn’t seem to have time to answer any of my questions, and I feel like I’m being rushed into making certain treatment decisions. What can I do to make things better?

A: Your relationship with your doctor and the rest of your healthcare team is extremely important as you move through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. If you generally like and trust your doctor, you can let him or her know that you’re feeling rushed and that you’d prefer a different style of communication. But if you feel like your doctor is not being responsive, you might want to consider looking for someone else. Ask another doctor you trust or a friend who has had breast cancer for names.

It’s also OK to get a second opinion, if you’re not sure about what course of treatment to choose. Again, if you have a good relationship with your doctor, he or she should not mind and may even be able to recommend a good place to go for a second opinion. If your doctor takes it personally or gets offended when you ask for a second opinion, he or she may not be the right doctor for you.

Read the article "Getting Second Opinions: Benefits, Concerns and Making Decisions for Your Health and Life" in the Summer 2006 issue of Insight, LBBC's quarterly newsletter.

 All FAQs reviewed by Elyse Spatz Caplan, MA

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