Patient Advocacy for Colorectal Cancer and Disease

Love, Self

Your best chance at beating cancer starts with you and your doctor

Today I want to encourage and empower you and your loved ones to be better advocates for your own health care.

Do you remember the old saying: “Knowledge is power”? Well, I say, “Having no knowledge makes you a higher risk for colorectal cancer and other colon diseases.”

Reasons patients avoid seeking medical advice:

  1. Afraid to get any medical information that might be bad news.
  2. Fearful of asking a doctor a stupid question (there is no such thing).
  3. In denial that anything is wrong with them.
  4. Afraid of wasting a doctor’s time.
  5. Ashamed of telling a doctor about their bowel habits or, for that matter, taking off their clothes.
  6. Too busy to even schedule, much less make it to, a doctor’s appointment.

Today’s health care is very different from the past systems you grew up with. It has changed so much over the years. Doctors now have to limit their time with you and for your exam. This limits the time you have to ask your important questions.

One of the most important things you can do at a doctor’s appointment is ask your doctor questions. Some patients are really afraid to speak up for themselves. Asking questions or questioning their doctor’s authority is not the easiest thing to do. But it is so important to be your own best advocate in order for you to get the best health care.

Remember: Good communication between you and your health care provider is essential.

Ideas to help you prepare for your next appointment:

  1. Write down your questions ahead of time.
  2. Have a friend or a family member go with you to help remember what the doctor said.
  3. If you are unsatisfied with your doctor, discuss it with him or her. Worse comes to worse, just switch doctors.
  4. Educate yourself and your loved one(s) to report anything to your doctor that is concerning you about your health needs.
  5. Keep a diary of your pain, bleeding, change in bowel habits and diet.
  6. Know your family history of all types of cancer or genetic diseases. Write it down in a place where all of your family members can find it when they need it for their individual doctors’ records.

Remember: You are never too young to have signs and/or symptoms of colorectal cancer, anal cancer or colon diseases. Seek medical attention immediately when you think something is wrong. 

Know and educate yourself and your loved ones about:

  1. Family history of colon cancer — including first and second degree relatives (children, parents, grandparents and siblings) especially if they were diagnosed at a young age. Screening for them may start at 40 years of age or 10 years earlier than the youngest person who was diagnosed.
  2. Genetics — FAP (Familial Adenomatous Polyposis) or Lynch Syndrome.
  3. Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease — inflammatory diseases of the colon and bowel.

Factors that can contribute to young people’s risk of cancer:

  1. Diets high in red meats, fats and processed foods.
  2. Inactivity and obesity.
  3. Smoking.
  4. Heavy alcohol use.

Understand and watch for early warning signs:

  1. Rectal bleeding (bright red or dark black).
  2. Weight loss.
  3. Weakness or fatigue.
  4. Nausea/Vomiting.
  5. Persistant abdominal pain or feeling bloated.
  6. Changes in bowel habits (constipation/diarrhea).
  7. Narrowing or change in shape of stools.
  8. Anemia.
  9. Bowels never feeling empty.

You can help prevent colorectal cancer:

  1. Stop smoking.
  2. Lose weight.
  3. Decrease red meat, fats and processed foods.
  4. Decrease alcohol intake.
  5. Increase fiber in food.
  6. Exercise.
  7. Yearly annual visits with your doctor where total physical exams are done. If your doctor does not check your more private areas: women, go to your gynecologist and, for men, your urologist. For newborns and children, if there are any signs of malnutrition, diarrhea or constipation, please go to your local pediatrician or family practice doctors as soon as possible.

Being your own healthcare advocate means you are partnering with your healthcare provider to find any diseases and cancer (if you have any) at their beginning stages. This will give you your best chance at beating and surviving your cancer. This includes speaking up and exchanging questions and ideas with your doctors in order for you to be proactive about your healthcare.

I cannot express the importance of working as a team in order to bring back the compassion and care as a person, and not just another patient. Listening to you and your symptoms is the key to today’s achievements of good health and effective treatment.

My sincerest wishes for your own empowerment and ownership of your voice for your own health needs so they may be met effectively.

This article was originally published at Dr. Christina Charbonneau. Reprinted with permission from the author.