You have just been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer. You feel overwhelmed, anxious. What do you do first? What doctor do you see? What procedure should you have? What is the best treatment plan?
As an independent patient advocate, I encounter many such patients. Besides offering them support and education about their illness, one of my primary goals is to empower my clients—to let them know that they can be in charge of their own health. The patient can be an active participant in making choices for her future.
At every step of the journey, there are options. The newly diagnosed patient can be encouraged to investigate all options, and acquaint herself with the risks/benefits of each treatment, including the psychological ramifications. Less aggressive treatment might be acceptable to one patient and not to another. I always encourage my clients to get a second opinion, and even a third opinion, if there is still no clarity.
Instead of the patient relying solely on information provided to her by the doctor, she can engage in shared decision-making, where the patient and her medical practitioner together determine the best option for her. Many doctors ascribe to the shared decision-making model and understand its value in helping patients to clarify their preferences. Patients now have access to decision aids (which in the past were restricted to print pamphlets and brochures, and now include interactive programs and videos that patients can view online) that present each option with its possible benefits and risks. Along with decision aids, getting opinions from more than one medical practitioner, and speaking to patients who have gone through similar procedures or treatments (a service provided by Sharsheret), the breast or ovarian cancer patient in 2017 has access to the resources enabling her to take charge and arrive at the treatment plan that feels right for her. Through taking an active role in the decision process, the newly diagnosed patient can transform anxiety into empowerment.