7 Steps to Own and Take Charge of Your Diagnosis
Whether it be taking control of a diagnosis of cancer, cardiovascular disease, alzheimer’s, diabetes or any illness, let us empower ourselves, in part, by learning about our illness and examining the lifestyle choices we make on a daily basis that may influence our health in a good or not-so-good way.
Together, working with our providers towards patient-centered health care and shared decision-making (SDM), we educate ourselves along our continuum of care from diagnosis to healing and beyond—WE GOT THIS!
1- Listen To Your Body
If something doesn’t feel right, it may very well not be. Be persistent. Listen to your inner voice, your gut instinct. Not sure? Then see your doctor. While there may be some fear in finding out you have an illness, wouldn’t you rather catch it early than after it’s too late? I thought you’d agree!
2- Go To The Doctors
Go to the doctor (and there will be multiple ones and many visits) and be your own advocate. While I had excellent doctors, they are busy, so make sure you have questions ready for them. Don’t be intimidated if they try to move you quickly out of their office after you waited forever to get in! Think about the detailed questions we ask when shopping for clothes, a home, a car, or take-out food! The doctors you choose will literally have your life in their hands. Do not feel guilty, either, if you feel strongly about getting a second opinion. Healthcare is in part a business; you are the customer, and your business is taking care of you!
3- Make Sure You Take Notes
While at the doctor, as my mom and best gal pal Anita suggested from my very first doctor’s appointment: make sure you take notes. These notes were invaluable in helping me keep track of the tremendous amount of information that was coming at me and allowing me to compare information from one appointment to another and to assess my options and better understand my diagnosis.
4- Bring Someone With You
Make sure, if you can, to bring a friend, family member, coworker, or someone else you trust to your doctors’ appointments.
This is a person who will help think with and for you. You may be overwhelmed, as I was, with varying emotions of hope and fear and anxiety. It’s important to have someone who can help ask the questions you didn’t think to ask, are too exhausted to think about, or are too scared to hear the answers to. I’m just being real; these things can (probably will, at some point)
5- Reach Out For Help
In the beginning, I knew no one with breast cancer—or so I thought—until I started to open up and talk with other women (and men!). I wanted to know what type of breast cancer they had, what type of surgeries and treatments they chose, and how they are doing now, post-surgery. Initially, I felt embarrassed. It is a very intimate disease. I get it; I was there. But know this: if you open up, I promise you will find unconditional love and support on the other side.
6- Get Copies Of All Your Medical Records
Whether MRI reports, X-rays, pathology slides, CDs, hard copy paper reports, or any tests or procedures, get your medical records. It is your legal right! And if you choose to go for a second opinion, you should bring the results with you and likely send them ahead of time. By the time my doctors called to report the results, I often had them—before their call! And, I was ready with my questions. Be proactive in your own care.
7- Research, Research, Research
From your doctors’ appointments to your medical tests, make sure you understand the words and definitions. I can’t emphasize this enough. I was overwhelmed with a myriad of terminologies that were completely new to me. While my healthcare providers were excellent, they don’t explain everything. Do your research by asking questions of your doctors and going on evidence-based and reputable websites. Doing this gave me control and helped me own my diagnosis and be better informed, and these things allowed me to be prepared for the difficult decisions I faced.