10 Questions for Your Doctor Right After You Are Diagnosed With Bladder Cancer
In Part One, I addressed the three first steps I recommended taking right after you are diagnosed with bladder cancer. In this part, I offer you some ideas for questions to ask your doctor.
The volume of information can be overwhelming
Much of the information you received when you were first diagnosed likely floated right past you. It is so challenging to get beyond the word “cancer” in the beginning. But once it has sunk in and you are ready to move forward, below are some ideas for questions to ask your doctors.
10 questions for your doctors
You likely already have plenty of your own questions, but here’s a list of 10 that you can use or modify as works best for you. You will notice that many of the questions include asking the doctor about patients like yourself. This will help focus the doctor’s thinking and responses on his or her experience with patients similar to you. The similarities could be with regard to age, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.
- What is treatment do you recommend for me and how long will it last?
- Is it a standard protocol? Are there any other options?
- How many bladder cancer cases have you treated and to what extent have you treated patients like me? (e.g., some urologists have performed many radical cystectomies but not so many on women)
- How successful is this treatment for someone like me based on the medical literature and how successful have you seen it be in patients similar to me?
- Is this a newer treatment or has it been around a long-time? What is its success rate? Could this treatment impact my ability to participate in clinical trials in the future?
- What are side effects and other challenges you have seen in patients similar to me who undergo this treatment?
- What can I expect with regard to the impact on my daily life? (Is it likely I can keep working, etc.?)
- Will the treatment possibly cause complications that need treatment? (e.g., chemo can cause low blood counts that can require a transfusion and a pause in chemo)
- Why are you recommending this treatment for me right now instead of the other options (assuming more than one option is available)?
- How soon will we know if it’s working and what diagnostic test will tell us that?
Bladder cancer treatment often involves many challenging decision points
It may be the case that there is only one clear treatment option for you at this time. If so, that simplifies the decision-making. The tougher situation is when there are 2 or more options that your doctor suggests and leaves the decision to you.
In bladder cancer, a very common scenario is whether to continue trying more BCG or to move forward with bladder removal. With advanced disease, it could be a decision about whether to do chemotherapy or immunotherapy or to join a clinical trial. At any point, it could be a decision about dosing or frequency of treatment.
My favorite question for any doctor
For those difficult decision points, I want to share with you my favorite question for a doctor. My favorite question for your doctor is: if this were your (spouse, mother, father, etc.), which of these treatments would you recommend for him or her?
This question does several things. It forces the doctor to empathize with your plight by making him or her imagine the scenario as a personal one. This makes it more real to him or her. And it also allows him or her to remain in the doctor/authority role but also give an honest answer about which direction he or she would recommend.
Shifting the dynamic
I have found this question to be very helpful as a patient and as a caregiver. And I have found that doctors are willing to answer it. It seems to have the effect of shifting the dynamic just slightly and in a very helpful way. I hope it helps you, too.
In Part Three, I’ll give you some ideas for how to build both your formal and informal care teams.
Did you know that May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month?