By Heather Millar
Remember the fog that surrounded you right after diagnosis? Remember how difficult it is to become an instant expert on your particular cancer? Remember how difficult it can be to make treatment decisions when you’re shocked, stunned, scared out of your mind? Remember forgetting exactly what you wanted to ask the minute you got into the doctor’s exam room?
We could all use a little support when navigating medical crossroads.
When I was in active treatment, I relied heavily on “Decision Services,” a pioneering program at University of California, San Francisco that helped me get ready for key doctors’ appointments, listing questions and concerns, clarifying test results, and helping me prepare for decisions that needed to be made. Now, that kind of help is available, over the phone, nationwide.
Developed in conjunction with UCSF, Open to Options™ provides professional counselors who help patients develop a concrete set of personalized questions and concerns to be raised with their doctors when a treatment decision needs to be made.
Cancer Support Community (CSC), a non-profit network offering cancer education and support, administers this new, national, toll-free call center. Patients may call the helpline (1-888-793-9355) or make an in-person appointment at one of CSC’s 13 affiliates, mostly in large urban areas.
In a pilot study funded by the Centers for Disease Control, an Open to Options™ specialist helped cancer patients with blood cancers brainstorm to create a list of questions based on their understanding of their disease, their priorities, options, and goals. The data suggested that patients experienced less stress and anxiety and had fewer regrets about their decisions when they received this sort of support. Doctors reported that the program made their interactions with patients more focused and productive.
This new program is based upon the one I found so invaluable at UCSF. If you’ve got a medical decision to make in the near future, check it out.
At the very least, take a look at CSC’s “Tips for Treatment Decision Making.” Briefly, they include:
• Learn as much as possible about your disease and your treatment options.
• Bring someone to your medical appointment to help you focus and to take notes.
• Talk through your ideas and concerns with someone you trust.
• Consult decision-making tools such as the patient guidelines created by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
But if it were me, I’d give Open to Options™ a call.