Immediately following your diagnosis, you need to start thinking about your care team. After my first appointment with my Surgical Oncologist, I learned a lot and had a better understanding what doctors I needed in my care team.
The surgical oncologist is the person who will remove the cancer from your body. In my case, he did the mastectomy and lymph node dissection. In preparation for the surgery, I had to do a battery of test. More about this in the next post.
The medical oncologist will support you throughout your cancer treatment. Including the recommendations for chemotherapy and radiation. He/she will order the medication for your chemo treatments, follow up with you weekly or bi-weekly as you go through chemo and post chemo and radiation follow up. This is the most important doctor in your care team.
The radiation oncologist will work with you to define your specific radiation treatment. The length and intensity. During your radiation treatment you will see the doctor every week to ensure your treatment is progressing well and to check your skin for burns and prescribe possibly remedies.
Your plastic surgeon will partner with your surgical oncologist in the operating room based on your treatment plan and perform any reconstructive surgery. You will see your plastic surgeon prior to the mastectomy and the post surgery follow up is done in his/her office.
In my case, I also needed a gynecological oncologist. There is a family history of ovarian cancer in my family and I choose to have a full hysterectomy at the time of my reconstructive surgery. My cancer is hormone driven (ER/PR positive) and I was on ovary suppressants as soon as chemo therapy was finished.
During my surgery, 12 lymph nodes were removed and I am at an increased risk of developing lymphedema. I have a physical therapist, who is specialized in the treatment of lymphedema, who I see on a regular basis. Not only does she provide therapy to prevent lymphedema, she was also a great help in recovering my range of motion in my right arm.
Another thing to consider is where you will have your treatments. All my doctors are part of the Baptist Health System in Miami and I chose to go to the Miami Cancer Center adjacent to Baptist hospital. A brand new facility with the latest, state of the art equipment. There are several facilities closer to home, but I chose to make the effort to drive a little further to receive, in my opinion, the best possible care.
As mentioned in my previous post, just because a doctor is recommended to you, does not mean they have to be your doctor. Evaluate your entire experience when visiting a new doctor. What is their waiting room like (clean/messy/chaotic)? How does the office staff treat you? Are they responsive? Was the doctor knowledgeable? Did you feel he/she listened to your concerns? Were all your questions answered? Did the doctor take their time with you or did the appointment feel rushed? How did the overall experience make you feel?
If it doesn’t feel right, say something! Ask for what you need.