Advocating for yourself when you have cancer

Being a cancer patient or caring for a cancer patient can sometimes feel like you’re always on the receiving end. You receive tests, you receive a diagnosis and you receive treatment. What you may not realise is how involved you can be in the decision-making process if you want to.

What is advocating?

Advocating has a few different meanings. It can be as simple as making sure your voice or opinion is heard. It can also mean making changes. This might involve something as simple as asking for more information about a side effect or as important as deciding to ask for a second opinion.

Getting information about cancer

The first skill in being a good advocate is to make sure you get the right information. It’s not always as simple as finding the answer online. There’s a lot of good information about cancer online, but like every other topic, there’s a lot out there that’s misleading. Be careful which sources you trust.

Organisations like the Cancer Council have online resources and phone helplines you can call for information. Also, Redkite has a detailed resources page. There are also professional associations and support groups covering most cancer types. Of course, talking to your medical team and asking them for recommendations is a good idea too.

Asking questions

The ability to ask questions is a great skill for someone facing cancer to have. While doctors or nurses may seem too busy, you have the right to ask them any questions you want answers to.

It can be a good idea to make a time to meet with your medical team and write down any questions you want to ask as you think of them. If you think of more questions after you’ve met with the team, it’s never too late to go back and ask more.

Listening

Advocating works best when it’s balanced with listening. It can be challenging sometimes to hear what people have to say, especially if you don’t agree with or want to accept their opinion. But by listening you’ll learn more and can even find new ways to look at an issue. You’ll also be leading by example by being respectful in communicating with others.

Learning the language of cancer

One of the biggest challenges of advocating for yourself can be understanding the language of cancer and cancer treatment. Never be afraid to ask someone to explain what they’ve just said, in words you can understand. Medical staff can be so used to talking about cancer that they don’t even realise they’ve used a word that’s not common.

Knowing your rights

You have rights as a cancer patient. Some important ones to remember are:

  • You have the right to ask for information
  • Depending on your age, you have the right to make decisions about your treatment
  • You have the right to ask to talk to another doctor or get a second opinion

Asking for help

Asking for help is a great skill to have. While there are many people ready to support and help you, sometimes you need to be the one to ask.

Some people worry that asking for help means that they aren’t coping, but what it really means is that you are actively trying to find your own solutions and that you know when you need support.

Finding your own solutions

Cancer brings up so many challenges, but you should never underestimate your ability to take them on.

Remember that you came to this experience with skills and you have no doubt picked up a few more along the way. Whether it’s making choices about whether to keep studying during treatment or wondering how to manage your parents being overprotective, you have strengths that can help you work towards a solution.

When you’re faced with one of the many challenges cancer will throw at you, first stop and breathe. Then think about what information you need and decide on the best next step. Ask questions, talk to people you trust, listen and get extra help or advice if you need it.

Cancer Advisor has a range of resources on advocating for your rights, but we’re always looking for more content. Leave a comment below, share your own story or recommend a resource.

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