How to make following your doctor’s orders easier

In theory, following your doctor’s instructions to prevent febrile neutropenia should be easy, shouldn’t it?

Just do exactly what your doctor has asked you to do. Take the right medications at the right times. Eat the right foods, wash your hands, and rest when you can. Avoid places where there may be germs. See your oncologist as often as required. Get your treatments – even if that requires multiple trips to the hospital per week.

But life isn’t always that simple.

Many cancer patients who are managing chemotherapy continue to lead very active lives. And while following a treatment plan to the letter may seem obvious, it can also be a huge source of stress and anxiety.

As if the challenge of living with cancer wasn’t enough, add the seemingly-endless to-do list of day-to-day needs that require attention: The barrage of work emails that need replies. The kids who need to be picked up from band practice. The bills that need to be paid. The check engine light that has been on for two weeks now. The internet repair that can’t wait until tomorrow.

There is no end to the onslaught of daily drains on a person’s time and mental energy.

And so it comes as no surprise that following your doctor’s orders to the letter can be hard to juggle with everything else. This is especially true for patients who need to take time off work to visit the hospital or doctor’s office multiple times in a week to receive their treatment. The stress of it all can wear on a person.

Sticking with the regimen that you have decided on with your doctor – what’s known as “patient adherence” – can be one of the most challenging parts of following a prescribed treatment plan.

So how can this be managed?

It can often start with a candid conversation with one’s physician, who can discuss how to help balance the clinical needs for treatment with the realities of daily life. There may, for example, be a treatment option that can be administered less frequently than another. Something as simple as reducing the number of visits to the hospital to get a particular treatment could make a huge difference.

By sharing logistical and practical concerns, a patient can help identify areas and times when they might be at risk of non-adherence so that they, with their physician, can come up with a plan that balances the ease of receiving treatment with their health needs.

Speak to your doctor about all of the available treatment options to understand if there are ways to get the treatment needed in a less disruptive way.  There may not always be, but it never hurts to ask.

Some important questions to ask your doctor and yourself:

  1. How frequently will this treatment require a visit to the doctor’s office/hospital?
  2. If I don’t live nearby a hospital for my treatment, are there other options?
  3. Are there treatment options that require less frequent visits to the hospital so that I can miss less work?
  4. Are there treatment options that have some flexibility around when and where they can be taken?
  5. Are there treatment options that can be administered by a healthcare professional inside the home?

Engaging your physician in an open dialogue about these issues is critical. Your doctor isn’t just your guide, but also a partner in disease management and recovery. Together, you can discuss a treatment plan that balances your health needs and the demands of everyday life.

To read this article in French, click here.

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