I call it Onco-speak. You’ve just been diagnosed with cancer and are concentrating on the doctor’s words so hard that you forget the question. Suddenly, you find yourself talking to several new doctors who use terminology that seems purposely designed to make you feel dumb and dumber. You are evaluating treatments while still in shock.
To make matters worse, your cognitive capacity may be hampered by pain medication. You become disoriented and experience a new form of brain freeze, unable to comprehend or reason. With no medical background, you have no frame of reference for the scientific words, their meaning drowning in a sea of fear that you are going to die.
Our personal life choices depend on our ability to analyze the recommendations, as well as our ability to be heard. It is our right to process the situation in a way that is best for us.
Tips on talking to your doctor:
1. Bring along a friend (or a voice recorder) to help sort it out, particularly for initial meetings.
2. Make notes. You think you’ll remember but you won’t. Write down recommendations and decisions, then read them back to the doctor to be sure you got it right. They want you to understand.
3. Ask for clarification. If there is anything you don’t understand, ask again and again until you can grasp exactly what your situation is.
Your medical team wants you to know as much as you are willing to learn. Remember that oncologists are accustomed to talking with patients traumatized by a cancer diagnosis. They anticipate that you'll be confused and scared and they don’t want to overwhelm you. But, they welcome your inquiry into the situation and will help you gain clarity to evaluate what may be the most important decisions of your life.