6. Champion yourself

Nobody knows you and your concerns better than you – and this means you will always be the strongest advocate for what you need.

You might find you need to be more assertive than you’d normally feel comfortable with. Being a good health advocate can sometimes make us feel like we’re being difficult, or pushy. Please don’t feel like this! You are only ensuring you get the diagnosis, support and care you need.

There are systems in place across the NHS to discourage GPs from referring people for cancer diagnosis, and mechanisms to reduce cancer referrals. Remember that the problem is with this system, not with you!

So what can you do to bolster your resilience and champion yourself?

Find someone to listen

If you come out of the consultation concerned that you haven’t been listened to or been taken seriously, ring the surgery and see if you could speak to one of the other doctors. You could also try one of the practice nurses who could advise you about the best approach to getting another opinion.

Go with your gut

You know your own body and that something doesn’t feel right. Find power in your instincts.

Use NICE Guidelines & understand the different referral routes

There are different pathways to a diagnosis. Some illnesses can be diagnosed within a GP surgery and won’t warrant a referral to hospitals and secondary care.

Referrals also come with different priorities. You might be referred routinely (non-urgently), you may be referred as urgent, or you may be referred along the cancer pathway (often referred to as a ‘2 week wait’ or ‘red flag’ referral) – this is the quickest and the one you’re advocating for!

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides national guidance on when to refer people to hospital with signs of cancer.

It’s worth using their website to find out if you meet the criteria for a swifter referral along the cancer pathway.  The guidance is a little dry, but you can find the information here.

‘Watch and Wait’ treatment

The NHS’ first approach for some health complaints is to watch and wait – wait and hope it goes away.

When doctors take this approach it can often feel hurtful. That they haven’t listened and you’ve been fobbed off.

Calmly explain to your doctor that you have already been experiencing the issue for *** insert amount of time*** and that you don’t feel confident that waiting will cure it.

This is where your symptom tracker will come in useful.

First try at treatment

The GP might suggest treatment that will address the symptoms you are worrying about.

When you try this treatment, continue to use the symptom tracker.

Make sure you return to the GP within two weeks to update them on progress. Book this appointment ahead if it was difficult to get an appointment first time round.