Dad Has Cancer: Three Resources for Choosing Medical Care

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As a nurse with over twenty years of hospital experience, I take care of people getting bad news or recovering from medical events all the time. That’s what I am trained to do. Despite this background, I have little or no experience helping them choose which doctor or hospital they initially choose for their care. I never felt this was a deficiency in my nursing until I found out my dad had cancer two weeks ago.

I now find myself in the place of the person who needs to do some fast research on behalf of a loved one.

My dad is 73 and, by far, the caregiver of my parents. He is not, and I repeat, NOT, allowed to get sick first. I joke with him a lot that we have this pact… my dad is not permitted to get sick first…he is the stronger one…the one that does all of the emotional and physical work in my parents’ everyday lives. He calls me 4 weeks ago complaining that he is tired all of the time and can’t seem to shake it. Uh-oh, red alert.

I don’t like to hear that my dad is exceptionally worn out since he usually has more than enough energy. While he is assuredly no spring chicken, he has buckets of energy and is always on the move. Indeed, this is despite a series of health challenges a decade ago.  I suggest that he tuck in, get some rest over the weekend and I will call him on Monday. 

On Monday he remains very tired, spurring my suggestion that he needs to get his blood count checked. He does and it’s low. Much lower than usual but still in a relatively normal range. I blow off the results and insist he gets it rechecked the next day. I just don’t think it’s an accurate result and there are a lot of factors that can erroneously sway a blood test.  He dutifully gets it rechecked the next day and it comes back even lower.  Hmmmmmm…that’s really distressing. Something is definitely wrong.

I encourage him to get additional tests run at the end of the week allowing us to move forward from there.  I rarely miss attending any medical event with my parents.  I am the nurse and the oldest girl.  Yet, having started a new job, I can’t miss any orientation days. I have no choice but to strong arm my reluctant, non-medical sister into going with my parents to the tests. Friday afternoon finds me sitting in a hospital computer lab doing mindless orientation when my sister texts me, “DAD HAS CANCER.” I immediately bolt out the door of the building in shock.

Arriving at home, I take some deep breaths and call my sister. She sends me screen-shots of the paperwork and yes, he has colon cancer.  I give her time to get them home from the testing, get them some food and let my parents take a big, deep breath. 

Then I call them. 

Both get on the different phones in their house, as is our usual routine each time I call. We all talk through what the preliminary tests reveal and what the plan is for the following week. We are all numb, shocked, and grim. I tell them I will do some research and get back to them over the weekend.

My dad’s doctor recommends a surgeon but I immediately balk as it’s not at the hospitals where I have worked.  I don’t know anything about this guy or their preferred hospital.  However, it is incredibly important to me that I not be another stress to my poor parents right now during a very taxing time. I need to be as supportive as possible and not necessarily the experienced nurse… but simply their daughter. 

Despite my reservations, my parents are happy with the surgeon their family doctor recommends because, after they meet him for a lengthy first visit, they feel like they can trust him. Don’t get me wrong, trusting your doctor and having faith in their treatment is HUGE. But, come on people, there is a BETTER way to go about this! Therefore, I set about doing my homework and here is what I came up with:

Three go-to websites for advice on choosing medical care:

#1 US News

LOOK UP YOUR DOCTOR!

Especially if you have no personal experience with a physician, the following website is a huge help: https://health.usnews.com/doctors

What information does this website really give you? It is basically a tool to find a doctor in the field of expertise that you need at this time in your life, usually some type of specialist. A search can be done by specialty, your desired zip code, or even if you already have a name and you want to look up that particular MD you want to know more about.

#2 National Institute of Health

Your ABSOLUTE best friend in reading up on the latest best practices on whatever is ailing you or whatever surgery your doctor is telling you that you now need to have. Go to the following website to read the most current and up-to-date medical practices for whatever diagnosis has fallen upon your loved ones: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/

READ, READ, READ! Take notice of how recent the articles have been published, and don’t be intimidated by big words! After all, Dr. Google is your friend. You can look up anything that you don’t understand on the almighty internet!  Even with my significant professional experience, I was finding myself reading about surgical techniques that I knew not a thing about.  I read and googled, read and googled, and I finally came up with a really good list of questions for the surgeon in three days flat.

#3 Medicare

This website, medicare.gov, is accessible to everyone! All patients, providers, healthcare workers, family, and friends can easily utilize this website.  About a third of the way down the webpage on the left is lots of useful tabs like “find doctors”, “find hospitals”, and “find nursing homes or home health services.”  Once you go into one of these tabs, you can see just how safe these places or people are based on national accreditation standards.  These safety indicators include such things as infection rates, death rates, timely and effective care, and more. One really nice function is to pick a zip code and, for example, pick “hospitals”.  You can select as many hospitals, providers, nursing homes, etc. in this category as you want. Then you can compare and contrast how these different locations are all doing according to many safety standards.

The bottom line is this… you have options if you want to advocate and educate yourself, even if you are not a medical person.  These websites are just a few strong steps you can make to ask the right questions, find the right doctor, or find the best hospital for your specific procedure.  Gone are the days where one just goes to the closest hospital.  Imagine if you found out that you may not have to go to the Cleveland Clinic to get the best health care system in the state! 

It is simply about doing some homework whether it is for yourself or a loved one. Although I have been a nurse for 20 plus years, that doesn’t mean I am an expert for this specific new scary and emotional news.  I hope these websites can offer another source of information like they just did for me during a very stressful time.  Dad…we got this!

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I am born and raised in Cincy but was originally an East sider until I moved to Clifton in the early nineties where I went to college. I reside in the Clifton Gaslight with my hubby of 20 years and our 3 boys. I am a full-time nurse. I consider myself an urban homesteader with a large veggie garden, compost, and 5 rain barrels. I absolutely love my life and community in Clifton. My life with 3 kids at 3 different schools has gotten busier than ever. 2 of my boys are teenagers too, which is quite the odyssey. We are home bodies who focus on life around the family and the 3 dogs. I couldn't be busier but I couldn't be happier!

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