[Ed. note -- Welcome Fran Drescher, cancer survivor and woman of great strength, many insights and that voice. She's here on behalf of Intent.com to tell us all what her treatment and recovery taught her about being a smart patient.]
Is there really a right way and a wrong way to go to the doctor? Of course there is! When we patients or, as I prefer to call us, "medical consumers go to the doctor we must be fully prepared. Sure, you don't feel well, and naturally you're scared, but just as the soldier on the front line of a battlefield cannot indulge those feelings, neither can you. You will only get so much time once you enter the examining room, so you must make every second count.
Let me walk you through the process based on my own experience:
- Stay one step ahead of your doctors office: Get the name of the person you're speaking with and request that any forms that may need to be filled out be faxed to you in advance so that you won't have to deal with that in the outer office. Also, fax your doctors office all of your insurance information and credit card info should any advance payment be necessary. Again, the less of this crap you have to deal with at the time of your appointment, the better. Make sure to ask if any blood, urine, or fecal tests will be taken that may require you to fast for several hours prior to your appointment. Do not expect the person from the doctors office to be the picture of efficiency. In fact, expect just the opposite and cover as many bases as possible.
- Choose your timing: If there is any way you can avoid going on a Friday or right before a holiday I advise you to do so; it just protracts the agony of waiting for test results and/or a prognosis.
- Pre-book procedures and tests before you see your doctor. The last thing you want to hear is something looks suspicious but you'll have to wait two weeks to get an opening for that MRI or CT scan, not to mention an operating room. These things can always be cancelled but if they're booked up, you're plain out of luck.
- Chaperone your test results. Imaging-test results come on disc or film, or are digitized, and I recommend you pick them up from one place and hand-deliver them to the other. The less middlemen involved, the less opportunity for screw-ups. Keep copies of all lab work results and doctor evaluations as well.
- Prepare your questions. Write down everything that you or your loved ones want the doctor to answer; dont try to remember everything because you won't. Start your medical grocery list immediately and add to it as you think of new questions; that way, as youre leaving the office you arent saying, Crap, I knew I wanted to ask him/her that!
- Bring someone strong, confident, and in control. Your head will reel with all the information, mixed with emotions, that this sick person is you they are talking about. The person you bring will be your eyes, your ears, your significant other. Don't choose a person for whom you will need to be strong or someone you'll need to calm down. This experience must be about you and only you. Bring your advocate right into the examining room and never let them leave your side. Give them the responsibility of taking down notes, asking how to spell words and medical terms with which you are unfamiliar. Having a solid, caring presence on your behalf to share the load lightens the burden of having to navigate ominous unchartered waters by yourself. Heed my warning and don't try to go it alone even if you feel you can. Every soldier needs a buddy.
- Be honest. Don't edit any symptoms you may be feeling, even if you're positive that it has nothing to do with the larger health issue at hand. A good diagnostician needs to see the overall picture before making an informed diagnosis.
- Discuss all options with your doctorand don't allow yourself to feel rushed. As a medical consumer you are entitled to receive the physicians undivided attention.
- Ask yourself if what you are being told makes sense. Don't underestimate your instincts.
- Do your homework. Look up everything on the Internet to better evaluate the information from the doctor. Go to the library and use every available resource you can to understand everything the doctor is telling you. If you are diagnosed with cancer, your research must be extremely diligent. The Web will point you towards the medical leaders in the field of your particular disease. The same names will come up again and again in research studies and medical reports. These are the doctors you should be talking to. Call any and every important and powerful person you know or know someone who knows. We are all six or fewer degrees of separation from the person who can help you get through to a hard-to-reach specialist.
- Get a second opinion. I believe this is an absolute must, and its essential to go outside of your doctors hospital to get a totally objective opinion. (By the way, the idea of insulting or upsetting your primary physician is B.S. Any worthwhile doctor will expect you to get another opinion and regardless, it's your body, your health, and your life, so do it!)
- Think carefully about radiation and/or chemotherapy. There is no standard for these treatments and application changes from state to state, city to city, and yes, even hospital to hospital. So make an informed decision based on many things but mostly what you feel is the right approach for you. The hospital with which your surgeon is associated may not necessarily be where you do your post-op treatment. I had my cancer surgery at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, but had I decided to do the radiation I was planning to fly down to M.D. Anderson in Houston. This decision was based on where the most state-of-the-art equipment for the particular form of radiation I would have needed was, as well as each hospitals policy for the frequency and strength of treatment.
- Fran Drescher.
Fran Drescher is part of Intent.com's Breast Cancer: Healing the Whole Woman campaign.To commemorate National Breast Cancer Awareness month, Intent.com is devoting the next 31 days to presenting some of the best thinking out there on an integrative approach to the disease. Every day this month we will run a new post on breast cancer, with provocative thoughts and solutions.
Read more ofIntent.com's Breast Cancer: Healing the Whole Woman
Olivia Newton John's Why Breast Self-Exams Still Matter
David Simon's Mind Body and Spirit - When you are Diagnosed
Donna Karan's Humanizing the Hospital
[photo creditL Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment]