Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Resolutions: Look Out for No.1

I wish everyone a happy, healthy New Year. I am especially grateful for my readers and the kind comments left on my postings. I belong to a strong community of people affected by breast cancer, and I am so grateful to have these special people as part of my life.

This is surely the time for New Year's resolutions, and these are important. But many people will be beginning the New Year as ill patients. Being an ill patient is unnerving and disarming. Not only does your body betray you, but your life becomes inundated with doctor's appointments and treatments. Add self-advocacy into the mix, and life becomes very complex indeed.

Even with a great arsenal of doctors, you still need to summon all your strength to look out for No. 1 – you.

This is why you need to make resolutions that will help you get the most from your medical care.

Resolve to speak up about feeling poorly. Too many patients – and I have been one of them – try not to “bother” the doctor by complaining about troublesome symptoms, medication side effects, and so on. Doctors aren’t mind readers, and with your excellent cadre of doctors in place, you should feel comfortable and empowered to talk freely with any physician on your team.

Resolve to call the doctor with questions. This falls under the not-wanting-to-bother-the-doctor category, as well as a patient’s fear of seeming stupid by asking questions. Feel free to ask questions, even if you need to clarify what you had already asked him or her. A great doctor won’t mind and will do his or her best to answer your questions to the fullest.

Resolve to share your emotional state. It’s really important for doctors and other medical staff to see you as a human being who happens to be a patient. Let your emotions out: cry if you need to, and/or verbalize how you feel emotionally. This should help remind the medical team that you are a real person with real feelings.

Resolve to consider the medical team as co-partners in your care. You are the most important part of the medical team, of course. However, you need to embrace the medical staff as co-partners in your care. Helping you is truly a team effort; by viewing your medical experience as a team experience, you will be better able to communicate and bond with doctors, nurses, and other staff.

Resolve to fire a doctor who silences you rather than listens to you. A doctor who mistreats you should not be your doctor. Enough said.

Resolve to ask the same question in different ways, multiple times if necessary. It’s often easy to get lost in medical-speak and get confused. That’s why it is so crucial to ask questions – even if they are the same questions worded differently – to get a concrete, understandable answer. Sometimes you need to reiterate what a doctor says just to ensure you understand what is being said. Clarifying information is a win-win for everyone on your team.

Resolve to use support systems. If you are not at your best, it can be a good idea to bring a friend, caregiver, or relative to help process medical information for you. Relying on a caregiver or other support person, however, can have its drawbacks. Friends and caregivers may believe they are looking out for your own best interest, but can be domineering and biased in helping you make decisions and thus negatively affect your medical care.

Resolve to follow up on appointments and procedures. Be proactive in your health by keeping track of your follow up physicals and procedures. Make that appointment and stick to it no matter how scared or defiant you feel. I have to work on this resolution myself, as I'm scared and defiant when it comes to setting up appointments.

Resolve to use art as therapy. These include drawing, writing, listening to or producing music. We need to care for ourselves holistically, and that means indulging in activities that calm us.

Do you have any health-related resolutions to add to the list? I really would love to hear them.  

This posting is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Calling the Shots: Coaching Your Way Through the Medical System. To obtain these excerpts regularly, please subscribe to this blog by clicking the orange subscribe button. I am a professional writer and have published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on my breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. I can be contacted at and Photobucket


  1. Happy New Year Beth
    May you continue to allow your light to shine brightly in 2011.
    Love the points you have made in this post. Certainly worth writing the points down as reminders for myself. I find I often get 'bogged down.' Especially when I am tired and fed up with feeling like I am going around in circles.
    I took particular note of your suggestion to ask the same question in different ways. Students all have different learning styles and I am sure doctors use their own particular style to communicate. Should it be different to your own style, there is the potential for trouble.
    Looking forward to the opportunity to follow you into 2011. Thank you for the time and effort you put into making a difference...Chez

  2. Thank you, kindly, Chez for that wonderful, inspirational comment. You are so right about getting bogged down. It is so easy to feel like one is going around in circles throughout the medical system.

    Yes, I have found that asking the same question in different ways works fairly well. And you are right: different doctors have their own communication styles.

    Have a blessed 2011 and keep your light shining brightly as well.

  3. Beth, Thanks for this list. I agree with all of them. Another one for me that is really beneficial I have found is to resolve to take time to think through medical decisions. Sometimes we feel so rushed and usually we can take at least a bit of time to think things through. I find this essential for my mental well being as well as my physical. On another note, hope you had a great holdiay, Beth, and I look forward to more of your posts this year. Also, thanks for your loyal readership. Oh, and when will your book be published?

  4. Hi Nancy,

    I think your point about resolving to take time to think about medical decisions is an excellent one. It is so important for us to think about these important decisions.

    Thanks for asking about the book. I'm in the process of writing the manuscript and hopefully will pitch the proposal to a publisher or two within the year.

    I am looking forward to reading your postings, as well. I appreciate your insights and readership, as well.

  5. Beth,
    Thank you for leaving a comment about my darling James. I am still numb. The full realization of his death has yet to penetrate every crevice. Our breast cancer community has been so loving. Unfortunately, all of us have too much experience with grief and loss.


  6. Brenda,

    I can understand why you are still feeling numb. It's difficult to fathom the loss of a loved one. The road of grief is a long one. I really wish the best for you and that you summon up the courage to cope. I know you can.

    -- Beth