Five Things to Remember When Talking to Your Doctor after a Terminal Diagnosis

Five Things to Remember When Talking to Your Doctor after a Terminal Diagnosis

Terminal. A terminal diagnosis can raise a flurry of emotion and confusion.  Do you want to attempt everything available, both conventional and unconventional? Or, is your inclination to seek hospice or some other form of palliative care? Or, somewhere in between?

Loved ones may possibly feel strongly about a course of action other than your preference.  Opinions of others may cause even more tension.  One thing is very clear though, you have some key choices to make and ultimately, it’s all up to you.

Here are five things to keep in mind when speaking with medical professionals about a terminal diagnosis:

  1. Prior to your appointment, keep in mind that this is your body, your life that you will be talking about.  You have a right to your own point of view and your own beliefs and preferences regarding your care.  Take time to write down any thoughts, questions, and concerns you want to share with your doctor.
  2. Take charge of the conversation. Before speaking with a doctor about what they can or cannot do for you, take the time to share with them your values about death and dying.  Should you have a Healthcare Proxy or Living Will; provide your doctor with copies that you can review together. You can then inform your doctor of the type of medical support/procedures you want or do not want.
  3. Your doctor is a crucial source for you for treatment and information.  Ask your doctor to review your prognosis and the alternative forms of treatment available. For each procedure, request descriptions of benefits, risks,  side effects of treatment and the probabilities of success as well as a definition of what success or failure would look like and the probable time line.
  4. If your doctor does not bring up the topic of hospice or palliative care, do so yourself. Ask your doctor to explain their point of view of these services as well as what they believes would be your probable future should you choose to forgo further medical treatment and seek immediate palliative care. It is also important to recognize that doctors are in the business of saving and preserving lives and, unfortunately, may view the option of palliative care or hospice as a personal and professional failure and therefore do not introduce this option readily.
  5. If you need more time to make a decision, take it. Don’t let anyone rush you. Once you have made up your mind about how aggressive or not you want your treatment to be, tell you doctor and be sure you have their full support of your choice.

Throughout your discussion, remember there is no such thing as a dumb question and you are entitled to whatever it takes for you to feel well informed to make a decision that is right for you.