Working with your healthcare team

Treating cancer is about teamwork – the team is you and the many healthcare professionals who are focused on your physical and emotional health. Team members may include your family doctor, oncologists, surgeons, nurses, social workers, psychologists and many others. As they become part of your team, take some time to get to know them, understand their roles and find out how they might be able to help you.

Your relationship with your healthcare team is an important part of your cancer care. Building a good relationship takes time and effort on both sides. Being clear, honest and respectful with everyone on your healthcare team will help you be an active partner in your care.

Getting the most out of your appointments

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of the time that you spend in appointments with your healthcare team.

Take someone with you. It can be hard to listen well and remember everything that your doctor tells you during a visit, especially if you’re upset. A family member or friend can help you remember what the doctor said and can give you emotional support.

Make a list of questions and take it with you to appointments. It may take more than one visit to talk about all the questions and concerns that you have. If you don’t get all your questions answered, you will have other chances to ask them. Also, your doctor may not need to be the one who answers all your questions. Some questions can be answered by the nurse, the social worker or other members of the healthcare team.

Make a record of the visit. You might take notes in a notebook, journal or computer, whichever is most comfortable for you. You may even want to ask the healthcare team if it’s OK to record what they tell you, so you can listen to it again later.

Ask your healthcare team to explain anything that you don’t understand. Unless you tell the healthcare team that you don’t understand something, they will assume that you do. So if you do not understand what is said, say so. It’s OK. Cancer is complex and hard to understand. And it’s probably a new subject for you. Repeating what your healthcare team has told you but in your own words is a good way to make sure you understand it correctly.

Take information that you find with you to discuss with your healthcare team. They can help you understand the information and tell you how it does or does not apply to your situation.

Speak up if you’re not sure that you’re getting the care that you need. Your healthcare team can’t help you if you stay silent. Even if you’re not sure about exactly what you need, try to start the conversation.

Avoid losing your temper. There may be times when you are upset or frustrated about your care, but try to let your healthcare team know about it without getting angry. People can become defensive if they feel attacked, and this can affect how they communicate with you. You may want to ask a social worker, patient advocate or navigator for help talking with the rest of your healthcare team.

Helping your healthcare team to get to know you

It’s important that your healthcare team understands more about you as a person, outside of your treatments and appointments.

Talk to your healthcare team about your life outside the treatment centre. Let them know about things that are important to you such as your work and home life, hobbies or interests and cultural or spiritual practices. It’s also helpful for your healthcare team to be aware of issues that are causing you stress or anxiety, such as family problems or concerns about money.

Let your healthcare team know how you’re feeling. Let them know about your hopes for treatment. Share your fears or concerns about treatment or about side effects so they can help you. Something that seems minor could affect your treatment or something you think is serious might be very easy to deal with.

Tell them what, and how much, you want to know. It can help your healthcare team to know what information you want and if they are giving you too much or too little information. Ask them to recommend some reading material or places where you can look for more information. You can look at this information when you have more time or when you feel less stressed.

Sometimes your loved ones want to know more than you do about your cancer and treatment. Let your healthcare team know how much can be discussed with them. It may be helpful to choose one family member or friend to talk to the healthcare team. That person can then share the information on your behalf.

Staying organized

Staying organized can help make planning for appointments easier and can help you communicate better with your healthcare team.

Keep track of your appointments. Make sure you go to your test or treatment appointments, and show up on time. It may help to use an electronic calendar on your phone or computer, or use a printed one if you prefer pen and paper. Keep a list with the names and phone numbers of your healthcare team, cancer treatment centre, lab and pharmacy – and make sure that your caregivers know where you keep it.


Make a record of your healthcare. Include information about test results, medicines and side effects that you have or should watch for. You can also use the record to keep track of any information that’s important for you to share with your healthcare team. Take this record to your appointments so you can add any new information.

Know who to call. Ask your healthcare team who to call if you have questions or something happens between visits. They can tell you what things you should phone about during office hours and what would need an emergency call outside of office hours.

Expert review and references

Making treatment decisions

The results of your diagnostic tests and procedures will give your healthcare team the information they need to finalize the best treatment plan for you. Treating cancer is complicated. Sometimes there is a recommended treatment or combination of treatments that has the clearest chance of success.

Getting a second opinion

When making decisions about your healthcare, you may want to talk to another doctor and see what that doctor recommends. This is called getting a second opinion. You can ask for a second opinion anytime during your diagnosis or treatment.

Questions to ask

It is natural to have many questions after a cancer diagnosis. Finding the right answers to your questions is important. These answers will help you make decisions that are right for you.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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