When It's Cancer -- How to Make Tough Decisions

You’ve been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Now the real job begins — you need to weigh the risks and benefits, to make decisions. But how?

By Rachel King

Consider statistics, not just stories. While it may be comforting to hear that a certain treatment worked for the cousin of your friend’s aunt, try not to rely only on anecdotal evidence. "You may jump to conclusions about whether a treatment is good or bad based on how it worked for someone else," says Denberg. "You need to consider the particularities of your own situation, which might be quite different from those of the other person." Instead, find out what the overall statistics show about how well most patients respond to a particular treatment.

Factor in your doctor’s decision-making style. Most physicians today prefer collaborative or shared decision-making. But not everyone is the same, says Zikmund-Fisher. "Some patients want a doctor who will tell them what to do. It’s important to find a skilled doctor that can give you the kind of relationship you need," he stresses.

Enlist a health buddy. Bring a friend or family member along to help you take notes during the meetings, and to be a sounding board afterward. Besides helping you understand and assess your doctor’s advice, says Weiss, another person’s presence may make it easier for you to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes and enable you to think more objectively.

Originally published on MORE.com, October 2006.

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