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7 Tips for a Successful First Visit to Your Oncologist

7 Tips for a Successful First Visit to Your Oncologist

  • Thus begins the unique relationship between you and your doctor to degrade and destroy the invader within. Military clichés aside, it is often a long campaign, with suffering and retreats, changes in strategies, and hopefully some victories. It pays to get off to a good start, as the faster the treatment commences, the faster you may return to your normal self. The initial consultation with your oncologist is more important than you may realize! Here are some suggestions to help transform your initial visit into a productive relationship. Artwork by Jon Carter, cartertoons.com.
  • Please bring someone with you, whether it is family, a friend, or even the neighbor who is serving as your chauffeur. It is frightening enough to have to sit in an oncologist’s office; it is unacceptable to have to go through it alone in my opinion. Why not surround yourself with those who care enough to be your advocate, or at least your pal? Do you know what oncologists first think when they walk into a room full of people? “This patient is loved,” followed by “I had better do my best.” I believe that inviting supporters to the consultation fosters patient empowerment and all its advantages. It also helps to have extra pairs of ears available to remember what was discussed.
  • This piece of advice requires work on your part, but I believe it is worth it. You don’t have to lug your entire chart with you, but if you can just get the pathology and radiology reports, you increase the odds that between you and your oncologist the integral pieces of your case will be intact. Also, please call and ask if you should bring CDs of your scans for the doctor to review.
  • When your life is on the line, there is no such thing as a silly question. You owe it to yourself to ensure that when you leave the office all your concerns have been addressed. Questions tend to appear magically at all hours of the day, so this is why you should record them. Remember to bring your list and get answers! By the way, “I don’t know” is frequently the correct answer to a question, so don’t be discouraged if you hear it.
  • Maybe you want to tape-record the visit for your kids who live out of town, or maybe someone who can’t be there wants desperately to hear what the oncologist has to say. Remember, your future is at stake—don’t be shy. I personally don’t care if a patient employs the speakerphone, FaceTime, Skype, Bat phone, or Ouija board. One of our principal obligations is to communicate with family, no matter where they are. Maybe a certain treatment you read about has captured your interest and you wonder if it is right for you. Ask away—doctors love to expound on such topics.
  • Trust me on this—the minute you get home the family will ask, 10 fingers poised over the keyboard, Google locked and loaded, “What did the doc recommend?” This is why you should ask your oncologist to give you a paper copy of the plan, including drug information, especially if you are thinking of getting a second opinion. Remember, what makes a second opinion useful is when it is compared to the first. If no one can remember what the first opinion was, it might be a bit challenging to compare the two.
  • Do not let bias or skepticism contaminate your decision regarding treatment. If you are keen on an alternative therapy, mention it to the doctor. If others have convinced you that all cancer treatments produce horrific side effects, confess your fears. This new era of personalized cancer care that for many produces outstanding results with reduced toxicity requires fairly intensive patient counseling. As we explain why we want you to consider taking a particular treatment, don’t dismiss it without learning all the facts.
  • You certainly have every right to keep your thoughts to yourself; however, what you withhold from your oncologist may interfere with reaching your goal of being cancer-free. If you are unhappy with us or our staff, please speak out. We would not be in this field if we did not want to improve our skills. If you feel dissatisfied with the consultation, share your frustrations with us. Remember—you are the most important person in the room. You are the one who deserves our respect and needs our encouragement. Your future, with you in it alive and well, is our mission. It would be deplorable if mistrust, confusion, or anger festered to the point of hampering your remission or even your peace of mind. In order for success to occur, you and your oncologist must journey together in a partnership of complete honesty. Speak now, tomorrow, and always your mind.


Agree with all of these, including finding a way to get them to people before their first visit with the oncologist(s). Also totally agree with the doc in regards to not hiding the fact you've already seen one or more other docs before consulting him/her.

One more thing I'd like to throw out there (from personal experience): do not ever be afraid to change docs at any point during your treatment if you become dissatisfied and are unable to resolve the issue after calmly discussing the issue(s) with your doc. I needed to do that about a third of the way through my treatment for laryngeal cancer. It's a short length of treatment time compared to many others, however the radiation side effects are absolutely brutal.

The nurses and clinical nurse specialist recommended a couple of new medications to request at my appointment the next day to help make those side effects less intense/more bearable. One of my oncologists became quite rude and belligerent when I asked about the meds for mucositis. He went so far as to trash talk nurses and nurse practitioners (I am both, but in a different specialty!) and said he would NEVER prescribe a medication based on a nurse recommendation. Seriously?? I then asked if he'd please prescribe whatever he usually did for my situation. He continued his rant and told me that I had no need for any mucositis med. Apparently the ulcerations all over my mouth, tongue, and throat didn't qualify in his book.

I fired him, for lack of a better term, and transferred care to a different doc in the practice. Much, much better fit philosophically and personality wise! He is the one I continue to see for follow up.

Kathy @

Americans too special people!!!
From small small in front of you ....Italy

letizia @

Humour adds a new dimension to a sensitive encounter!

karina @

I'm not sure if all new cancer patients are aware of this website - maybe a good place for this to be available first would be internists' offices or ob/gyns or wherever patients are first diagnosed. . This is a great set of cartoons.

Kathlen @

Lovely series of vignettes that can really help pts. I also think a good opening cartoon would be to show a deer in the headlights and let the patient know that we understand this is how they feel but that we want to take them from the victim, helpless, hopeless situation to empowerment no matter what the stage of their tumor. For most it will come at some point, but as your cartoons ("graphic novel") state, this will accelerate the process of forming the oncology team as an effective working partnership.

I heartily endorse comment number eight as well.


Great suggestions! It is really important to take someone with you. The overall article is fantastic.

sharon @

GREAT ADVICES... And, after many years on practice, I'd add (# 8) : NEVER HIDE THE DOCTOR IF YOU'VE CONSULTED ANOTHER COLLEAGUE BEFORE, and what he/she said to you. NEVER 'TRY' DOCTORS, it's unfair to us...

Tulio @

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