For many patients, finding out that you have cancer can feel like your world has been turned upside down. With the swirl of changing emotions, daily routines, family relationships, medical tests, treatment, and side effects, you might find yourself asking: What about what I want?
The good news is the approach to cancer care is transforming so that what the patient “wants” is more likely to be what he or she gets. Cancer indeed changes many things in a patient’s life, but not the essence of who you are. Before, during, and after treatment, your personal values, perspectives, and cultural and religious beliefs are an important constant – the glue that holds you together during challenging times. Today, those values can also play a direct role in cancer care.
Cancer diagnosis is sometimes depicted in movies and TV shows as a one-sided conversation about prognosis, treatment, and outlook – with concerned doctors fully in charge and pliant patients nodding yes. But cancer treatment is more complex than this. Innovative treatment options and advancements in medical technology have transformed the way patients receive care, making it possible for providers to offer patients a more personalized approach to care.
A cancer diagnosis should open an ongoing conversation between a patient and their care team. At the forefront of that dialogue is a patient’s values – the principles and standards that define who we are – that will help guide the way forward.
We’re now asking patients specifically what they value as it relates to their quality of life and their healthcare. These values assessments, included in their medical record, help patients think deliberately about what they want not only from their healthcare, but how they can best live their lives with their disease. This helps physicians better understand their patients and what treatment approaches would be best.
Patients and their families arrive at the clinic with the disease, but also with their values and beliefs intact and worthy of consideration. Patients should never feel that their values are dismissed or ignored at any point in their cancer journey. Whether you have recently been diagnosed or are currently in treatment, keep these things in mind:
It’s okay to speak up. Patients should feel comfortable and confident advocating for their health and decisions about their care. Asking questions, even when it’s difficult, means patients make informed decisions about aspects of their care that are within their control. This helps ensure their values and wishes are taken into consideration.
Trust is key. Choosing where to seek cancer treatment is a very personal decision. Cancer brings with it a host of complex and sensitive issues. When it all becomes bewildering, a patient and their loved ones should be able to trust that their care team understands and respects their values when helping patients make decisions about their care.
Your cancer doesn’t define you. Cancer care is about treating the whole patient, not just the illness. Our clinics provide patients with a system of support anchored by the physician, and including emotional support, after-hours care, benefits counselors, pharmacists, and many others dedicated to guiding patients through all aspects of treatment.
Your values are a reflection of who you are, just as our values at Texas Oncology guide everything we do for patients. Across our network of more than 420 physicians and 175 locations, we focus on always doing the right thing, with integrity and compassion.
When life takes unexpected turns, our patients find stability in their values. It is our privilege to work for a team dedicated to helping patients stay true to what matters to them most.
Joseph P. Litam, M.D.
Joseph P. Litam, M.D., Texas Oncology is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–McAllen, 1901 South 2nd Street in McAllen, Texas
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