After a cancer diagnosis, you will probably need to make a number of decisions. These could include which treatments to have, how to involve or care for your family and friends, whether or when to return to work, and what to do about finances.
Know your options – Understanding the disease, the available treatments, possible side effects and any extra costs can help you weigh up the options and make well-informed decisions.
Take your time – Check with your specialist how soon treatment should begin. If it is safe to wait a short while, use that time to think about your decisions. Generally, people find it easier to make decisions (and have fewer regrets later) if they take time to gather information and think about the possible consequences.
Get expert advice – Ask your health professionals to clearly explain your treatment options, and the benefits and side effects of each. For non-medical concerns, you can ask to speak to the social worker at the hospital or treatment centre. The social worker can advise you and your carer about issues such as financial assistance, how to get extra help at home, and support for relationship or emotional difficulties. You can also call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for information and support.
Write it down – Organising your thoughts on paper can often be easier than trying to work everything out in your head. Start by identifying the purpose of the treatment (is it to cure the cancer, to control the cancer, or to keep you as comfortable as possible?), then list the pros and cons of each treatment option. You could rate how important each point is on a scale of 1–5, considering the short-term and long-term effects on you and others.
Decision aids are online or printed resources that help you choose between treatment options. You answer questions that help you focus on what matters most to you. There are decision aids for a range of cancer-related issues, such as whether to have breast reconstruction or whether to have treatment for early prostate cancer. Ask your treatment team if there is a decision aid for your situation.
Talk it over – Discuss the options with those close to you, such as your partner, family members and close friends. You may feel worried about how your decisions will affect them, so hearing their opinions could put your mind at rest. Sometimes you might prefer to talk to someone neutral, such as a member of your treatment team or one of the experienced health professionals at Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Consider a second opinion – You may want to get a second opinion to confirm or clarify your specialist’s recommendations or just to check you have explored all the options. Specialists are used to people doing this. Your GP or specialist can refer you to another specialist and send your test results to them. You can get a second opinion even if you have started treatment or still want to be treated by your first specialist. You might decide you prefer the second specialist.
Expect to have doubts – Feeling unsure does not mean you have taken the wrong path. Reassure yourself that you made the best decisions you could with the information you had at the time. And remember that decisions are not always final – it may be possible to change your mind even after you have started down a particular treatment path.
Remember it’s your decision – Adults have the right to accept or refuse any treatment that they are offered. For example, some people with advanced cancer choose treatment that has significant side effects even if it gives only a small benefit for a short period of time. Others decide to focus their treatment on quality of life. You may want to discuss your decision with the treatment team, GP, family and friends.
Download our booklet ‘Cancer Care and Your Rights’