8. Build your Team
These are some of the people you might meet – they’ll be your team, championing you through the system, so it’s worth building a good relationship with them all and understanding their specific roles. As your clinical support network grows, you’ll soon learn who’s the best person to talk to for specific queries or concerns.
Clinical Nurse Specialists – Most cancer departments have dedicated nurse specialists, who will be your ‘constant’ person throughout your cancer journey. Often, you might not be introduced to them until after you’ve been diagnosed, so do call the hospital and ask to be put through. They are trained to be compassionate, supportive and available to discuss your worries and anxieties. They will understand it is a stressful time and can answer whatever questions you might have.
Specialist Consultants – You are likely to be allocated to a consultant who will lead your care. This is a specialist doctor who may also be a surgeon.
Oncologist – Oncologists are cancer doctors who prescribe cancer-specific drugs such as chemotherapy. They will also manage your side effects.
Haematologist - A haematologist is a doctor who specializes blood disorders and disorders of the lymphatic system (lymph nodes and vessels). They are specialists in leukemia, or cancers of the blood.
Radiologists – Radiologists are doctors that specialise in diagnosing illness. They interpret scans, such as X rays, CT scans, and MRIs.
‘MDT’ Team – A multi-disciplinary team generally meets once a week to discuss their patients’ health and care. Here, nurses, consultants, radiologists, oncologists, and others, all come together to ensure you’re being sped through to a diagnosis. It might be worth asking your nurse specialist when this meeting is scheduled and asking her afterwards if you were discussed.
MDTs identify the best overall approach for each patient and make recommendations accordingly. It is still the patient’s choice whether or not to accept this recommendation. You will still have a say and be able to share your wishes.
Secretaries – Consultants all have dedicated secretaries, as do some nurse specialists. They are good leads to your clinical team and are usually easier to get in touch with.
Your GP – Your GP will be there to support you throughout your diagnosis journey. They can also send messages to hospital specialists, make calls on your behalf, and help you deal with symptoms while waiting for test results.
The GP secretaries are also a really helpful source of support with NHS bureaucracy. As they work outside the hospital system, they’re more likely to tell you as it is!
PALS – This is the Patient Liaison Service and every hospital has one. They offer confidential advice, support and information on health-related matters. They provide a point of contact, so if you’re struggling to find answers, or are feeling lost, then PALS are a good helping hand and will be able to answer questions on wait times, or help you with information on how to navigate the health system.
Cancer friends – Friends who have had cancer are also great sources of information and support – be it regarding the tests, advice on what they found helped during times of anxiety, or to guide you in what to expect.