Author: Mia James
“Great communication is necessary between
patients and their health care team,” says
Sahirah Khabeer, a patient resource navigator
with the American Cancer Society and the Grady
Health System at the Georgia Cancer Center for
Excellence. “Patients have to be aware—specifically
in the area of cancer—of what their diagnosis
is, what the treatment plan is, and what to expect.”
Open dialogue between you and your health
care team can contribute to your choosing and
staying on an appropriate treatment plan and
can also affect your quality of life. “I think good
communication can improve a patient’s overall
experience,” Sahirah says, as providers are better
able to help patients who voice their concerns.
Though communication during cancer treatment can be challenging, there are steps you can
take to keep the dialogue open and ensure that
information is received and understood on both
Sahirah recommends asking your team some
specific questions before treatment begins:
- What is the type and stage of the
- What is my treatment plan?
- How long is treatment expected to last?
- What are the potential side effects?
- What’s my prognosis?
- In addition to my doctor, whom can I
ask if I have questions?
- Whom should I call in case of an
Tips for keeping the conversation going
Even with questions prepared, you may find it difficult
to keep track of the information you need to
receive and share. Here are some tips to keep the
- Get to know all the members of your
health care team (such as oncologists,
nurses, and social workers) and learn
what their role is in your care.
- Write down questions before appointments
and take notes during appointments.
- Consider keeping a detailed journal of
how you feel during treatment and write
down any side effects.
- Create a file for all printed materials related
to your diagnosis so that you can easily
look up information.
- Have a friend come with you to appointments
to help you remember important
information, ask questions, and take
- If you don’t understand something your
doctor says, be sure to ask for a clearer explanation.
- Ask your health care team to recommend
educational resources, such as websites
For more help
If your circumstances make good communication
particularly challenging, a patient navigator
like Sahirah can help you establish and maintain
an open dialogue with your health care team. “My
role as a patient navigator is to provide direction,
resources, and services to all cancer patients as
they’re going through their journey,” she says.
In addition to ensuring that all necessary information
is shared, a navigator can help you find
patient-friendly literature about diagnosis and
treatment and make sure you’re receiving needed
information in a way that you can understand. A
navigator can also connect you with important
resources (such as financial, insurance, and
medication assistance) and, no less significant,
offer caring and compassionate support.
As you enter the treatment process, remember
that good communication between you and
your health care team can help you achieve the
best outcome possible. And remember that there
are steps you can take to ensure good communication
as well as trained professionals (patient
navigators) to help you on your journey.
To learn more about patient navigators, visit the
American Cancer Society at cancer.org.