Breast Cancer

5 Questions to Ask Yourself

A cancer diagnosis will probably cause you to pause and reflect on your life. Here are 5 questions to ask yourself.
October 2020 Part 4 of 4 – Breast Cancer Special Issue Series
Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, HON-ONN-CG
Co-Founder, Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators® (AONN+)
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Oncology Navigation & Survivorship®
University Distinguished Service Professor of Breast Cancer
Professor of Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Co-Developer, Work Stride: Managing Cancer at Work
Johns Hopkins Healthcare Solutions
Breast cancer survivor

Over the course of this breast cancer series, we have offered a lot of information about the types of questions to ask your medical oncologist and your nurse navigator, as well as other information that helps you to understand breast cancer and your treatment options. In this final issue, I’d like to focus on questions you need to ask yourself.

A cancer diagnosis will probably cause you to pause and reflect on your life, where you are along the trajectory of your life, and how you want to approach what is likely the most concerning medical crisis you have ever experienced in your life. Here are 5 questions to ask yourself:

  1. How can I best empower myself with information in layman’s terms so that I can confidently participate in the decision-making about my treatment options?
  2. If I am dealing with metastatic breast cancer that has spread elsewhere in my body and therefore is not curable, what approach do I want to take regarding treating it? Is quality of life my #1 priority over quantity of life? (Hopefully that answer is yes.)
  3. What are my life goals, and how can I preserve them rather than sacrifice them to breast cancer? (For example, My daughter’s wedding is in 1 month; should I tell my doctor I want to delay starting chemotherapy until after the wedding or not tell him, knowing I need to plan to feel ill at the wedding and reception? Or, I was hoping to start a family in 2 years; should I request fertility preservation given that the chemotherapy will likely cause my ovaries not to work properly anymore?)
  4. What am I most worried about right now? (For example, Can I afford my treatments? I cannot afford to miss time from work because I live paycheck to paycheck. I am petrified of going bald from chemotherapy treatments.) What am I worried about regarding my future? (For example, Will I live through this or should I be getting my affairs in order? Should I really have my affairs in order anyway? After all, I have young children, and I am a single parent.)
  5. What is most important to me—really personally important—and how can I make my treatment team aware of this? (For example, My family; my baby; my elderly mother; my horse; my upcoming promotion; my need to find someone to become my soulmate.)

These are not questions that are answered while driving 10 minutes in your car to go get gasoline. Get out a journal and start writing, and don’t just answer these questions in that journal. Write a few words every day. It is therapeutic to write when you are going through a serious personal crisis, which this certainly is. It will help you organize your thoughts, and it will provide you clarity you didn’t have before. Start writing...

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Last modified: October 30, 2020

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