Laying the Foundation
Before you start this journey, you want to establish some ‘ground rules’ that will form the basis of your decision-making process. The first thing you want to think about is how much you want to know. It is assumed it would be ‘everything’ but there are plenty of people in this situation who don’t exactly feel that way, and if you are one of them, that’s okay. Do you want to cold, hard facts on survival rates and success rates of treatments? Do you want to know every last detail about your treatments or would you rather not get all the information? Think about this and let your doctor know.
As for treatment decisions, you have to think about how involved you want to be. Some have complete faith in their doctors and will let them totally take the lead, while others want to take the lead and have the final say. Many opt for the middle ground, with both them and their doctors being involved in deciding on a course of action.
What Are Your Treatment Goals?
Clearly defining your treatment goals are an important part of deciding on your cancer treatment options. What are you hoping to accomplish? Are you going for a cure, hoping to stabilize and keep the cancer from growing or relieve symptoms? This will impact how willing your are to put up with invasive treatments that may come with serious side effects.
Someone with a shot at curing their cancer completely would be more likely to put up with more challenging treatments for the short-term than someone with a more advance stage of cancer who has a degree of acceptance about their diagnosis, and would rather focus on quality of life than quantity.
Benefit vs. Risk Analysis
Cancer treatments can be rough, there are no two ways about it. When deciding on treatment options, it is important you weight the benefits vs. the risks to decide on the most appropriate course of action. What sort of side effects can you expect? Are the ones most likely to surface worth enduring or do you think they will be too much? Discuss options for managing side effects with your doctor and how effective they tend to be. How will the treatment affect your life in the grander scheme of things?
Will you need to take extended time off from work. Will if affect your role in the family? If so, how will you work around it? Don’t forget to consider your overall health besides the cancer diagnosis. Do you have any other conditions that would make specific treatments more risky or likely to cause more severe side effects? How would it impact your overall quality of life?
You may feel a great sense of urgency in deciding on a course of treatment, but for the most part, you have time to think things through. If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed, ask your doctor how long you can take to think over your options. Treatments are not set in stone. If you change your mind before you are set to start a certain one, or you are experiencing significant side effects, talk to your doctor about changing course. Don’t hesitate to get a second opinion out of fear of offending your doctor—most of them will understand the need to consult with multiple people when making such important decisions. And, remember too..you don’t have to get any treatment at all if you don’t want. You can simply take medications and other measures to control pain and other symptoms.
This is a big decision and you want to proceed carefully and calmly. Establish a support system, and bring someone with you to appointments for a second set of ears. Ask as many questions as you need.