Maximum Impact: How to Better Manage the Practical Elements of a Cancer Care Plan

In recognition of National Cancer Survivors Day (June 1), the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation examines the challenges cancer patients face in managing their experience after a diagnosis through advice from David Landay, founder of Survivorship A to Z, an online portal of information that helps people living with cancer or HIV to enhance their efforts to survive and thrive. 



A lifetime of experience that helps us feel in control of our lives is upended with the words: “I’m sorry to tell you, that you have cancer.”  We can’t control the complex medical system, but we can be aware of steps to help manage the lifelong experience, get better medical care, and pay less for it. 

Consider the following tips from our team at Survivorship A to Z, a nonprofit resource I, along with a group of experts in different industries, created after learning the hard way that there is no single place that has unbiased information covering the financial, legal and practical aspects of living through all stages of life after a diagnosis. 

Knowledge is power and our goal is to help you take control.  Here are some steps you can take to help improve your outcomes. 

Prepare for medical meetings

More often than not, a patient’s time with a doctor will be short these days. To ensure every second of your meeting is productive, consider the following: 

  • Keep track of your symptoms so you can report them accurately. Include a description of the symptom, how long it lasts, levels of pain or other discomfort, and what (if anything) helps reduce the symptom. For a symptoms tracker, including a feature that with a click of a button turns your symptoms into an easy-to-read graph, click here.

  • Keep track of your questions and concerns. Before the meeting, prioritize your questions so you can be sure to cover the most important ones in the meeting.

  • Research enough about your condition to understand the basic lingo – the words that describe your condition, symptoms, and markers for treatment. Understanding the technical terms will help make conversations with your medical team more precise and shorter – leaving time to address your concerns.  As you do your research, keep in mind that worst-case scenarios are commonplace on the web. For solid information, look at a few reputable websites. For examples of such sites, click here.

  • Familiarize yourself with who does what.  Learn about the various medical professionals you are likely to meet, and what they do.  

Be smart during medical meetings.

  • Take an advocate with you.  If the subject of a meeting is going to be important to your care (say, as compared to a periodic check up). The person can help ask questions, keep track of answers and review the meeting with you after it’s over. For information about advocates, including what qualities to look for in such a person, click here.

  • Ask the doctor if it is okay to record the meeting so you can review it without the stress of a medical meeting. You can likely record on your phone.  Alternatively, recorders are inexpensive.

  • Take extra steps to ensure you understand everything the doctor says. An easy way to be sure you comprehend the information relayed by a doctor is to repeat back what you heard.  Do not be afraid to ask the doctor to repeat information, or to communicate it using different words.

  • Find out when and how to ask unanswered questions. Ask the doctor to outline the best times and ways to make contact, for instance by email or mail. This small detail can have a huge impact on the flow of information between patient and doctor.

Follow the treatment plan you agree to.  Take all medications on time and as directed – including even if you are feeling better.


Be smart financially.

  • If you’re in a challenging financial situation, keep in mind that medical bills are not set in stone. Like most other financial transactions, medical bills are negotiable.

  • If you have health insurance, don’t take “no” for an answer. Follow the insurance provider’s rules and appeal when necessary.  For tips on appealing insurance company denials, click here.

  • Thanks to Obamacare, you can get health insurance even after a diagnosis. If you cannot afford health insurance, there are steps you can take to qualify for Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California).  For more information, click here.

Do what you can to maximize your body’s disease-fighting ability. Don’t just rely on medical procedures and drugs.

  • Eat the best you can.

  •  Get information on the best nutrition for you and your situation.  Speak with a nutritionist or dietitian. 

  •  If eating is a problem because of nausea or other reasons, ask your doctor or another medical practitioner for tips. 

  • Exercise to the best of your ability within guidelines to be discussed with and approved by your doctor.

Try to keep a positive attitude. It helps. When negative thoughts come in, recognize them as thoughts and change the subject. To learn more, click here.  

  • Do what you can to minimize anxiety and fear. If emotions become overwhelming, or interfere with daily life, seek professional help.

  • Explore complementary treatments such as massage or meditation.

  • Get enough rest and sleep.

For more information on these topics and many others affecting quality of life issues for cancer patients, please visit