You and Your Team
It matters a lot who your caregivers are, how they interact with one another and with you, and how you feel about those relationships. For women with breast cancer, the team will include a surgeon and a medical oncologist, and may also include a radiation oncologist, a plastic surgeon, a nurse practitioner (or more than one), a chemotherapy nurse, a social worker, and, perhaps, a physical therapist and a nutritionist. That's a lot of people!
For most women, a surgeon is the first person involved in treating their breast cancer, and many of the other referrals flow from that office. Here at BIDMC, many newly diagnosed women come to a session of the Multi-Disciplinary Breast Clinic where they meet a surgeon, a radiation oncologist, and a medical oncologist. Those doctors may form the core of their team, although there may be personnel changes and additions.
I have written before about choosing your doctors, but, once that decision has been made, you have the challenge or the benefit of making and sustaining relationships with them over a long period of time. The medical oncologist is the single person whom you are likely to see for the rest of your life. The surgeon, the plastic surgeon, the radiation oncologist, and any other specialists are "hired" to do a particular job, a piece of the treatment, but are not responsible for your ongoing overall cancer health. Any doctor would be unhappy with this comparison, but it makes it clear: Consider the medical oncologist to be the contractor, and the others to be specialists like the carpenter or the plumber or the electrician. A good contractor is responsible for the work forever and can always be called in the future with a problem. The medical oncologist will continue to see you for years, maybe for the rest of your life, and will be responsible for solving any problems that may come up.
This is a good article from CancerNet about relationships with your team. The bottom line is that it is vitally important that you trust, respect, and feel comfortable with your doctors. If not, make a change.
Building a Relationship With Your Cancer Care Team
· Amber Bauer, ASCO staff
After a cancer diagnosis, your relationships with your doctors and other health care
professionals are likely to become some of the most important in your life. Because you
will be spending so much time with your team throughout treatment and will share the
highs and lows of this experience with them, it is important to find an oncologist that you
not only feel confident in but also feel comfortable with.
“Realize whoever you choose as a doctor is going to potentially be with you for the rest
of your life,” advised Desiree, a cancer survivor. “That helped me to realize the
importance of making sure that the medical team that I created were people that I could connect to, that I could
communicate with, because they are actually an extended family.”
According to a 2013 study, people with cancer want their team to include sensitive and caring individuals who can
provide useful, understandable information, listen and respond to their questions and concerns, and try to
understand what they are going through. But building this type of relationship takes time and effort on both sides.
So, just like in the beginning of any relationship, asking questions and talking is essential.