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UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

Talking with your child's health-care team

Good relationships with your child's doctor, nurse and the other members of the health-care team are worth the effort they take to create. This means taking the time to ask your questions and make your concerns known. Likewise, your team must take the time to answer your questions and listen to your concerns.

It's hard to listen well and understand complex information when you are anxious or afraid. You may not hear or remember what is being said. There are several ways you can make sure that you remember everything your health-care team tells you:

  • Take notes to help you recall what they say.

  • Have a family member or friend there with you. This person can remind you of questions you want to ask and help you remember later what was said. You may also want to ask this person to keep other family members and friends informed of your child's medical status. This will help your family to feel included without burdening you with repeated questions. You may want their help in making decisions, so keeping them up-to-date may be in your best interest.

Asking questions

Make a list of all your questions. Take the list with you to your child's clinic visits. Don't be shy about asking these questions. There is no such thing as a “dumb” question.

If you need more details after your doctor answers a question, say so. Sometimes it's even helpful to ask the question again, in a different way. Unless you tell your doctor that you don't understand something, the doctor will usually assume that you do.

Here are some questions your doctor or nurse can usually answer for you:

  • What is my child's exact diagnosis?
  • What treatment do you recommend?
  • Are there other treatments? What about clinical trials?
  • What are the benefits of these treatments?
  • What are the risks?
  • What medicines are you giving my child? What are they for?
  • How should my child expect to feel during treatment?
  • What side effects, if any, can I expect my child to have?
  • Will the disease or the treatment keep my child from going to school?
  • Will my child have physical limitations?
  • Do you have written information for me to read?
  • If I am feeling overwhelmed or depressed, can you refer me to a social worker?
  • How do I reach you if I have a question? Do you respond to e-mails?

When you get instructions from a member of your child's health care team, write them down in detail. Make sure you understand them before you leave the office. Then follow them exactly.

Keeping your doctor and nurse informed

Your child's doctor and nurse rely on you to report information that could be important to his or her care. You may want to keep written notes on your day-to-day health concerns, and bring these notes to your child's appointments.

  • Tell your doctor and nurse as clearly as you can about any changes in your child's body functions, from sleep and bowel habits to other changes such as headaches.

  • Talk over your concerns about the impact of cancer on your child's lifestyle. Be honest, even if it's something you're not proud of, such as your child acting out of control. Never hold back information. Something you think is minor could affect his or her treatment. Or, something you think is serious might be easily relieved.

Parents usually want to build a good relationship with their child's health-care team. Over the long term, it is helpful to identify one doctor to be your main source of information. Ask this physician if he or she is comfortable with that. Building this relationship doesn't just happen – it takes care and effort on both sides. Chances are you'll both benefit from it.

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-- Adapted with permission from the American Cancer Society. Last updated 5/2007.