Do you ask about your options?
I felt so empowered. The e-mail message told me everything I needed to know to make the decision that was right for my family. I had hesitated to re-order another hog from the local farmer. I considered not renewing the order because one major product, the pork chops, we found too fatty and we didn’t enjoy them. But on the other hand, the rest of the pork products had been very high quality, and I would miss having access to those. Instead of just telling the farmer ‘no’ and losing out on the good, and instead of saying ‘yes’ and continuing with a product that didn’t quite meet our needs, I contacted the the farmer to express our concern and to ask about options that might better suit us. Her email answer addressed my concern, and helped me to discover and understand that we did have options available. All I needed was information to win back my sense of power and to feel confident to decide. I am so grateful to the farmer who is working in partnership to find a solution that works for me.
This may seem an odd story for a health navigation and advocacy blog, but I immediately connected the experience to what it means to be an empowered patient when navigating healthcare: there is a lot of power in asking for more information about your options. Here are two contrasting examples that I see and learn about regularly in healthcare.
Fred had hesitated to go through chemotherapy following the surgery to remove his tumor. He spoke with the oncologist to express his concern, and asked about the risks and benefits of his various options, including what would happen if he turned down treatment. With the information he learned – what he could expect from his disease, as well as his treatment options – Fred confidently decided that chemo was right for him. There was a high chance that the chemo would be effective against his tumor. Because Fred was looking forward to watching his young grandchildren grow, he chose to do everything possible to stay alive, even if it meant suffering through chemo, and even if there were no guarantees that the cancer would go away.
By contrast, when Annabelle accepted chemotherapy to manage her advanced-stage cancer, she regretted her decision. She didn’t hear when the doctor said that the treatment would only buy her a few months of time, so Annabelle accepted the treatment without really knowing what to expect. The chemo treatments were hard on Annabelle’s body, and she suffered because of them. Even though tumor growth slowed for a while, before long the tumors started growing again without control. Annabelle continued to suffer, now due to end-stage cancer. When she discovered how little she had gained from the chemo, she wondered: what was the use of suffering through chemo’s effects? Annabelle felt that she had only made the suffering last longer. Annabelle felt powerless, because she didn’t get what she had expected, because she didn’t know that her expectations and the likely outcome didn’t match .
Before you accept a recommended medical treatment, ask to understand your options. Ask:
· what should I expect to gain from the treatment, given the state of my condition? And also ask:
· what am I risking with each option?
Unlike my pork products, there isn’t always an ideal treatment option to choose, but you will have the chance to decide if the benefits are great enough for you to accept the risks that come with it. Win your power through information, so you can stand confidently in your decision.
Please call if you cannot ask the questions – sometimes it is hard to ask, or sometimes the doctor doesn’t seem to have the time. Please call if you are struggling with the information – sometimes it is complicated to understand, or sometimes it is hard to decide what is right for you.
Please call to become empowered to make an informed decision, and to gain support as you move forward with that decision.