How to work with your specialist to develop a treatment plan that meets your needs

23 Aug 2021

As the CEO of your body, it is important to employ people around you whose mission is to deliver you the best care and results for your health – from both preventative and ongoing health management perspectives.

With this in mind, making YOU the center of any decision regarding your health is essential for the best possible outcome. At the end of the day, you will benefit most from being part of the decision-making process and you will be far more relaxed and confident if you understand and feel in control of what your treatment involves, and what it will or possibly will not do.

So, what do we mean by ‘treatment’?
For our Pink Hope Community, this could fall within the realm of cancer prevention – identifying the path you wish to take to reduce your risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, and subsequently working with your team of experts (e.g. GP, high-risk screening clinic, breast surgeon, etc.) to develop a risk-management plan that may or may not involve surgical intervention.

The second group of incredible community members is those who are diagnosed. Together with your team of doctors, oncologists, surgeons, etc, you will work together to put in place a treatment plan that addresses the best possible treatment options, e.g. immunotherapies or chemotherapy, surgeries, etc.

What do I need to put in place to establish a great treatment plan with my specialist?
Having a trusted appointment ‘buddy’, such as a friend, partner, or family member, accompany you to your appointments will help ensure that all of the information is heard and absorbed. It will also allow you to walk back/talk through your appointment afterward with someone so that you can be sure you are considering all possible options for your treatment.

It is also a great idea to ask your specialist to give you all the discussed information in writing, along with any supporting written materials such as brochures, fact sheets, etc. Always ask questions if there is anything that you do not understand. For example: “What are the pros and cons of having this surgery?” or “Do I have any other treatment options?”

If a treatment is proposed that makes you uncomfortable or uncertain, ask if there are other treatments available that you can consider. And if treatment cost is a concern, ask if less expensive choices are available. Your specialist should work with you to develop a treatment plan that meets all of your needs.

Your specialist will send a letter outlining your diagnosis and treatment plan to your GP which ensures that your GP is aware of, and understands your medical care. Your GP can then also be an important point of contact for you to discuss your diagnosis and care.

What to consider when deciding on a treatment plan?
Explore different options. There can be different ways to manage many health conditions, ask your specialist what your options are. With the arrival of precision medicine, immunotherapies and personalised treatments, there are more options than ever when it comes to managing a cancer diagnosis.

By working collaboratively with your specialist and understanding your cancer type – and whether it is the result of a genetic mutation, such as BRCA – you may well be able to utilise some of these targeted therapies to better treat your cancer.

If you’re on a preventative health journey, whilst the surgery is often considered the best option to reduce your risk, there are now trials beginning that may be an option for you. Alternatively, you may wish to continue with high-risk screening, so working closely with your healthcare team to determine if this is the best option for you is important.

Understand the risks and benefits. When considering medical treatment options, it is important you are clear on your options and that you ask about the pros and cons of each.

It is important to consider what the side effects might be, how long the treatment will continue, and how likely it is that the treatment will work for you. What are the long-term expectations, both around treatment outcomes and therapies beyond the initial treatment?

When it comes to surgical intervention, it’s a great idea to work closely with your doctor to understand how surgical intervention will improve your outcomes if you’re a diagnosed patient, or how it will reduce your risk if you are selecting this as a preventative option.

Be clear on how your treatment may impact your quality of life. When considering the pros and cons, don’t forget to ask about any impact on your quality of life. Will the treatment or surgical option interfere with your ability to live your life, as normally as possible? What costs will be covered by your insurance? Doctors need to understand what’s important to you so they can work with you, developing a treatment plan that meets your needs.

Getting a Second Opinion
If you are diagnosed with a serious illness and surgery is recommended, patients often seek a second opinion. The views of two different specialists can help you get clearer on what’s best for you. Don’t be shy, doctors and specialists are used to this, and most will not be insulted by your desire to seek a second opinion. Your specialist may even be able to suggest others who can review your case. You can read our blog on seeking second opinions here if you would like more information on this topic.

Health Information Online
Often people will head to Dr Google and search online to research information about health problems. However, it’s incredibly important to understand that not all health information on the internet is of equal quality or reputable. Ask your GP or specialist how to find resources that are accurate and reliable, and don’t forget to talk with them about what you’ve learned online.

This article was sponsored by Astra Zeneca and developed independently by the team at Pink Hope in consultation with medical experts.