Talking to doctors when you are an older person with cancer
Some people find it difficult to talk openly with their doctors, or feel that they must accept without question, the treatment they have been offered. However, doctors are used to being asked questions and explaining the reasons behind their decisions.
It can help to ask questions so that you understand what’s happening and the plans for your treatment. It may help to make a list of the questions you want to ask. It can also help to take someone with you when you see your doctor, such as a partner, relative or close friend.
Doctors and nurses may sometimes use medical terms. If you don’t understand what they’re saying, or you aren’t clear about what is being recommended, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s important that you feel you have all the information you need to make choices about treatment.
If the discussion seems to be taking a lot of time and your doctor appears very busy, you could ask if there is a nurse or someone else who can answer your questions. Most cancer clinics and hospitals have specialist nurses who can sit down with you and explain treatment options.
Written information can help you to remember what you’ve been told. You may be given information to take home with you. You can make a note of questions that come to mind while you are reading, to ask at your next appointment with your GP or specialist.
If your hearing is poor, you may find it difficult to communicate with the people looking after you. Ask them to repeat the information if you didn’t hear it properly. You may also find it helpful to take someone else with you when you visit your GP or specialist. You can then check what you heard with your friend or family member and make sure you haven’t missed any important information. If you would prefer to take someone other than a friend or family member, you can contact local independent advocacy services. Your doctor or nurse can tell you how to get in touch with them.
If your eyesight is poor, you may find forms and information leaflets difficult to read. Some are available in large print, or your doctor can arrange for someone to read them to you. Information tapes and CDs may also be available, which you can play on a personal stereo or at home. A lot of our information is available on CD or audiotape.
If English is not your first language, you may have difficulty understanding the information given to you, or in letting the doctors know your wishes or concerns.
You may have a trusted family member or friend who can act as a translator, and help you ask any questions you have. You can ask for them to be included in all discussions.
If you prefer to have translation from someone other than a family member or friend, the hospital can provide an independent person from a translation service. They can
speak your language, help with communication, and will respect your privacy when hearing confidential information. You may need to book a translator before going for your appointments. The hospital can give you further advice about arranging a translator.
Information leaflets may be available in different languages, or the hospital may be able to have them translated for you. We have some cancer information available in different languages.
People from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds have different ways of dealing with cancer. You may need to help your doctors understand how this affects your treatment decisions and your healthcare needs.
Between your hospital appointments, you may develop new symptoms, or your symptoms may get worse. If this happens, you can contact your GP, cancer doctor, or key worker and ask if your next hospital appointment can be brought forward. Although you may not want to bother them, it may be better for you to be seen sooner.
Some hospital doctors have specialist nurses who work alongside them, and it may be easier for you to contact the specialist nurse and explain your symptoms. If they think that you should see the doctor earlier than planned, they can usually easily arrange this. Usually you will meet the specialist nurses when you are in the clinic, and they will give you a card with details of how to contact them. You may be asked to leave a message on their answerphone and they will return your call.