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Oncologist as Disease Expert—You as Health Expert

No one person knows your body and mind like you do.

And no one person or healer (of any kind) can have as much long-term impact—positive or negative—on your overall wellbeing as you.

It’s your body, it’s your mind; you can be in control.

Your daily decisions, motivation, and discipline during and after a cancer diagnosis will have a great impact on your health outcome. Period.

Oncologists often agree on one largely anecdotal observation: patients who are the most involved in their own care, and who stay positive, typically have the best outcomes, even when facing a poor prognosis.

To ensure the most appropriate personalized cancer treatment plan, your oncologist should have significant experience and expertise specific to your disease. However…

As a patient with a mission to thrive, you must be your own expert when it comes to creating the healthiest you: physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Put simply, you must ‘own’ your health.

This website features a directory of North American integrative oncology service providers, including oncologists.  Hundreds more can be found around the world.

Integrative oncology is growing rapidly. The field is supported by practitioners of various kinds, including oncologists themselves, medical doctors, naturopathic oncology certified physicians, acupuncturists, and registered dieticians.

Though the field is expanding, well-trained integrative oncologists are still few and far between. There remains a significant unmet patient need for medical and radiation oncologists who are fellowship trained and, in general, those experienced with cancer patients and survivors on all things wellness and health creation.

This critical void of conventionally trained oncologists with basic knowledge of lifestyle medicine approaches to positively influence their patients’ clinical outcomes must change.

NCCN, the clinical guidelines that most oncologists consult for treatment direction, support exercise for survivorship. But most oncologists are uncomfortable making this direct recommendation to patients.

Trusted sites like the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute include content on diet and exercise as key health determinants to prevent a cancer diagnosis.

Sadly, most oncologists are not well-equipped to translate the guidance from ACS and NCI to clinical care once there has been a diagnosis.

Conventional oncologists often lack the time and interest to develop expertise to engage patients in this critical area.  They focus on the disease burden, the cancer itself. This is what they know. This is what they were taught. This is where the ‘reimbursable’ revenue lives.  And to be frank, their time allocation with each patient is limited.

The amount of ‘lifestyle’ education provided those attending medical school is miniscule, so they lack the training related to the impact of behavioral change to prevent cancer, and for supportive durable remissions and long-term survival after treatment.

Your oncologist is the ‘disease’ expert—you must become your ‘health’ expert. (click to tweet)

Previously, I’ve written about the unrealistic expectations patients tend to have of their oncologists when it comes to knowledge of lifestyle approaches to support patients’ overall physical, emotional, and spiritual health, especially during active cancer treatment.

If you have found an integrative team with expertise in integrative oncology, and all of the various supportive measures that fall within this umbrella, wonderful. But if your oncologist cannot provide guidance on, say, ‘anticancer’ nutrition, the best types of exercise for your particular situation, or nutritional supplementation, don’t dismiss her.

Or, at least, don’t dismiss her just for her lack of knowledge and limited ability to help in these areas. But, if you are getting unreasonable pushback or a negative attitude for the sensible lifestyle changes you are incorporating into your life, then that’s a different story. With the latter, consider finding another oncologist.

Hopefully your physician is an expert in your particular disease, you get along well, and there is mutual respect. If so, then a critical part of the management of your disease is in place. Augment this by becoming a savvy wellness expert who is motivated to be the healthiest, best you.

Find and assemble your health creation team of providers—such as dieticians, exercise physiologists, acupuncturists—with or without direct support of your oncologist. But share all aspects of your overall care decisions with that oncologist.

Learn through attending lectures, or by reading books and the medical literature. Find a mentor. Work with a cancer coach. Search online and watch videos relating to legitimate advances. And, ask others who have expertise in supporting cancer patients and survivors with sensible lifestyle approaches.

It begs emphasizing: make sure you are getting your advice by top experts, authors, and media outlets. There is so much misinformation floating around the internet. ‘Dr. Google’ can be helpful or harmful. You must carefully vet all of the content you consume regarding healthcare, and especially as it pertains to cancer supportive care.

When cancer patients carefully study and incorporate sensible health promotion measures into the management of their disease, a sense of profound control often takes hold. This, in itself, elevates confidence and improves attitude. Quality of life can be improved dramatically, thus an environment for deep healing can be created.

Let your oncologist focus on your disease, so you can focus on the health of the host—you.  Never lose sight that your role is equally as important as your oncologist’s in the treatment, healing, and survivorship process.