As a young woman in my late 20’s I never thought that someone as young as me would get diagnosed with Breast Cancer. With the diagnosis came several medical and surgical procedures that I had no clue about. Without the time to research what was about to happen I had to think smart about the questions I needed to ask my medical team so that I was clear about what would happen to me during and after certain procedures.
It is a hard reality to grasp when you have just been told devasting news or that you need to have surgery and you are unsure how to process it let alone ask questions that could give you peace of mind. Medical professionals are busy people so naturally they give you the most important details (in a usually short amount of time) and the rest can be explained through a leaflet, a brochure or a pile of small booklets to assist in an already overwhelming situation. If you are lucky there may be a nurse sitting in with you during your consultation that can later relay information in a more clear and concise manner and offer answers to any burning questions you may have thought up.
Some of the questions I see relatively frequently on Facebook private support groups of women in a similar situation as myself include: What do I ask? What do I need to know? and how will all these things effect me?
Here are the things you can do and the questions you should probably ask before a medical procedure….
To start one piece of advice I will give is stay away from Dr Google.
There are so many varied opinions and so much information out there it is easy to get highly overwhelmed, paranoid and stressed. There will be people out there who have first hand experience and your medical team will be able to help you get in contact with them.
I think it is always smart to take someone into consultations with you that can take notes and unlike you may not be such a blubbering mess – I am speaking from experience here – thanks Wifey!
Ask if there are alternative options and ask the consultant to explain the process they will be doing and go through it fully. Ask them to break it down so you know exactly what will happen. For example, my surgeon described my boob as a round cake and drew a diagram of how he would slice it then put it back together. It was easy to understand and I felt at ease knowing what would happen. Ask them to break it down as if they were explaining it to a child.
Ask them to explain the after effects and not just immediate but long term side effects and the healing process.
Ask how long you should rest for and what you are allowed and not allowed to do and what exercises and movement activities you can do to increase mobility.
Ask how long will it take to get back to your normal activities and what ask them to explain support systems are in place to help you get back to normal e.g funded physiotherapy and condition specific rehab centers – yes they are out there!
Ask what the pain will be like afterwards and how best to treat it. Also ask if you will have nerve damage and if feeling will come back or be indefinitely effected. Ask what the wound will look like and if you will have to have drains and what scaring will be like. Asking what they will sew the wound up with and what materials they will use inside your body are also good questions to ask E.g. dissolvable stitches, wire mesh, glue etc
Ask the questions you think are the silliest, simplest and the most obvious – it is their job to reassure you make you feel at ease. Stress slows the recovery and healing time.
Ask them if there is someone you could speak to that has been through the procedure or if anyone has written about it. Blogs are super helpful, more insightful and easier to digest than articles.
Ask them to explain pathology and show you what is happening on scans and images so you can understand visually what is happening and what they will do in the operating room. They maybe able to show you videos or pictures of procedures and explain them. Yes it is better and safer than google! Your situation will be specific to you so you can’t compare to others.
Aim to ask questions in your consultation not on the day of surgery as it may overwhelm you. If you still have questions after you leave the initial consult email or call your nurse or doctor afterwards. Yes they are busy people but they will reply. Some medical professionals will not give out their contact details but if they do, use them. Speak to your GP also they will be there to support you.
If you don’t feel comfortable with the medical professional or the options they are giving you ask for a second opinion – they shouldn’t be offended and will often refer you to someone they know or work with.
Be assertive about your wants and needs. In the end it is your body and you need to trust the person is helping you fix the problem you are faced with.
The medical world should not be seen as a scary place but I know from experience it can be overwhelming especially when you need to make decisions fast. Remember that you are allowed to ask questions and you have control about the decisions that are about you. Don’t forget that.
The content of this post was derived from women who are living with and have survived Breast Cancer. The women who contributed to this post are from New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the USA. Thank you for your input ladies in helping other be more confident in their well being before having a medical procedure.