Updated: Mar 19
By Ashlee Duttweiler
Navigating the world of healthcare is complex. I know from personal and professional experience that a diagnosis of cancer (of any kind) changes your life. Not only does it affect the cells of your body, it changes everything. That is why holistic care is so important and that is one of the reasons I got involved with the Surviving Breast Cancer organization.
My name is Ashlee. I met Laura at a fundraising dinner for an amazing lab making huge strides in cancer research (shout out to Dr. Whetstine and Whetstine Labs!). As soon as she started telling me about the work she was doing in terms of breast cancer survivorship, I got super excited.
Holistic health was my platform in the healthcare field and cancer has touched family and friends surrounding me. In addition, I care a lot about supporting and advocating for patients and caregivers which is why I am planning to pursue a career in social work. It is my desire that through my education and involvement with this amazing organization, I will be able to bring hope and light to the darkness that often goes along with health struggles.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a few tips for navigating the world of healthcare that I have learned from working with doctors (professionally and personally) that will help and encourage you as you begin surviving cancer and navigating the health care system.
1. Advocate for yourself (Or find someone who will do it for you)
The healthcare field is overwhelming. As a patient, you have rights and are not entirely subject to what the doctor initially tells you. If you have questions, ask them and don’t stop asking until you get answers and you have a full understanding. It is usually helpful to have someone accompany you to doctor appointments, or talk to insurance providers on your behalf; this person may ask questions that you might not have thought of, or to help remember all the information that is being thrown your way. Laura said she always brings a notepad and paper to all of her appointments, she takes notes, and asks for correct spellings of medicines so she can do her research once she returns home. In addition, if you do not feel like you are being treated properly or fairly, speak up! While it can be scary, you are allowed to take ownership of your care.
This point is also important because sometimes it can feel like it is you (the patient and your family) against the doctors and insurance companies. Professional advocates are fairly new to the scene, but take advantage of this option! It puts someone in your corner whose sole purpose is to help you understand, check bills and information, and get you the fair treatment that you need.
2. It is OK to get second (or third) opinions
The more eyes that are looking at something, the better! If you don’t feel right about something or don’t like a particular doctor, it is totally fine to look elsewhere for care. There is not just one doctor who deals with your particular type of case, so if you are not satisfied it is ok to look elsewhere.
One thing that is important to remember in this case, however, is that doctors are experts in their field. My point in saying this is that they do know what they are talking about, but it is perfectly acceptable to get as many eyes on your case as you can so that you are able to make an informed decision about all of your health care options.
Looking for second or third opinions?
Survivingbreastcancer.org has partnered with Driver (as startup based in San Francisco) who can assist you in setting up appointments for second opinions throughout the U.S. regardless of where you are located! In addition, Driver offers several other support services such as managing medical records, access to clinical trials, and is helping our Surviving Breast Cancer community pay for these services through a GoFundMe Champaign that they are donating the first $100 to your goal! Got questions on this – definitely reach out to Laura@survivingbreastcancer.org for details!
3. Do your research
There are so many great resources available specifically for you! survivingbreastcancer.org, for example, which has a focus on survivorship from day one and beyond, but there are many organizations that will cater to your needs whether that be financially, house cleaning, or child care to name a few, and who want to help you through this difficult season.
You are not alone!