Finding out you have ovarian cancer can be frightening. Finding out your cancer is advanced or has returned can be very difficult. Treatments can help, of course, but you may find yourself with a lot of questions for your doctor both during and after treatments.
This guide can help you sort through the choices you may need to make if you have advanced ovarian cancer or if you’ve been through several rounds of treatment already and need to evaluate your options.
Build a Cancer Care Team
A cancer care team is a group of specialists and health care providers who are dedicated to making your treatment as successful and easy as possible. These providers will serve as your advocate and guide you through this difficult process.
Your cancer care team should include an oncologist or a gynecologic oncologist. These doctors specialize in treating cancer and will likely lead your treatment process.
You also may want to seek out a surgical oncologist with experience in gynecologic cancers. These surgeons are trained in treating cancers of the female reproductive system.
Ask your oncologist about meeting with a nutritionist or a registered dietitian. One of the most common side effects of ovarian cancer treatment is loss of appetite. These professionals can help you construct a plan that is suited to your tastes, while maximizing the nutrition you get.
Have Honest Dialogue
It’s important to be open and honest with your care team. The discussions you have with them will determine a lot about your treatment options, your health, and your future. Withholding information or concerns will only hinder your treatment. Be frank with your team, no matter how trivial or embarrassing you think some information might be.
Getting and sorting through answers can be difficult and overwhelming. Asking the following questions can help:
- How have treatments affected my cancer’s stage and grade?
- Has the cancer spread beyond my ovaries?
- Have the tumors begun shrinking?
- What is my current prognosis?
- Do you think the treatments have been successful?
- When do we decide if the treatments are working as intended?
- At what point should we reevaluate my treatment plan?
- Could the cancer return after these treatments?
- Do I need to make any lifestyle changes during treatment?
- How will these treatments affect me in the long term?
- Will these treatments impact my fertility?
- When should I involve a caregiver?
Know What to Discuss
In addition to these questions, there are five main points you’ll want to discuss in depth with your doctor as you undergo treatment or begin another round of treatment:
Type and Stage of Cancer
The type of cancer you have determines your treatment options and possible outcomes. The cancer’s stage and grade do, too. You need to understand where the malignant tumor developed and if it has spread so you can understand how that affects your prognosis.
As your treatments progress, ask your doctor to reevaluate your cancer’s stage and grade. Imaging scans can determine if your tumor or tumors have begun to shrink or spread.
Treatment Plan Expectations
Each type of ovarian cancer is treated differently, and no two patients are the same. What worked for one woman may not work for you. For that reason, it’s important to know what your doctor is looking for and expects. This helps both of you discuss whether the treatment has been successful or not.
Don’t be afraid to question a treatment plan if you’re worried about the long-term consequences, potential side effects, or if you feel it’s not working for you.
Ovarian cancer treatments come with a host of potential side effects. Many of them are mild, but irritating. Others, however, can be very painful. Let your doctors know what side effects you’re experiencing. Your doctors may want to discuss changing your plans if side effects become too severe or troublesome.
It’s smart to have an in-depth treatment discussion after every round of treatment. Tell your doctor how the treatment made you feel and the side effects you experienced. Review any tests your doctor has requested. This is a good opportunity to discuss treatment milestones, or points your doctor hopes to reach in terms of reducing or eliminating the cancer.
In addition to planning your treatment strategy, you need to plan for your future. Advanced ovarian cancer — cancer that resists treatment and returns — may be difficult to eliminate.
Ask your doctor for guidance when the time comes to pick a caregiver or a hospice. It’s better to be prepared and discuss your end-of-life needs sooner rather than later.
One of the best things you can do is to become informed. Research, read, discuss, and ask questions.
Keep a journal handy to write down anything you want to look up or ask. During doctor’s appointments, write down your doctor’s answers or any additional questions you have as a result of your discussions. Your journal won’t be as detailed as your medical file, but it’s a great way to remind yourself of certain things and keep your family up-to-date.