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How to Talk to Your Doctor: Before, During and After A Diagnosis and Surgery

Yes, we all know how daunting just the annual visit to your internist can be, but an oncologist?  Often the fear and anxiety that creeps in when dealing with any diagnosis can really shake us. It can be easy to forget that doctors are there to help, not to send us into an angst-ridden tailspin. In those moments when the dizzying swirls of worry surrounding the words “breast cancer” are fretfully filling our brain – how on earth can we even begin to think of coherent questions about our course of treatment? Take a deep breath. Then another. You’ve got this.

Now, here is how to talk to your doc and get many of the answers you need.

 First up, did you interview at least two oncologists? If not, let’s not add to the worry, but it’s important to feel comfortable with your specialists. Doc dating is a thing. Well yes, if you’re single, your Grandma would be proud – but I don’t mean like that. Meeting with a couple or even a few oncologists and reconstructive surgeons can give you a sense of control and also the confidence that you have the “right” team in place for all that’s to come next. 

Here are a few questions to ask when you first meet a new medical prospect:

  • How do you approach patient education? How does that fit into patient care? 
  • In terms of treatments and care, how do you stay current on the latest research? How will that inform my care?
  • How will you make use of your medical peers to determine advice for me? 
  • How digitally connected is your practice? Can I check my charts online or with an app? 
  • How much do you integrate nontraditional approaches into your treatment? 
  • What’s the best way to communicate with you if I need answers fast or in an emergency? 

Next, after receiving your diagnosis, solidify your team. Then confidently head into that exam room armed with these questions, a pad of paper and a pen (or a good note-taker friend or loved one is even better, so you can really focus on truly hearing the answers while your supporter does the legwork!):

  • Don’t be afraid to ask your doc whom else you should speak to (other oncologists, specialists, alternative medicine doctors, etc). Any good doctor will check his or her ego at the door. 
  • If you [the surgeon herself ] had just received this diagnosis, who would you go to for care? 
  • If I were your daughter, mother, or sister, what course of treatment would you recommend? 
  • Which resources and websites – in addition to of course – should I use to find more info about this? 
  • Should I see any other specialists that been haven’t mentioned? 
  • What can I expect in the next two weeks? The next month? Six months from now? A year from now?
  • How can I best prepare myself for what’s to come?
  • Is there any palliative care available to me? 

Lastly, so you’re prepared once surgery is over and you get to slide into recovery mode, these follow-up questions should get you on your feet and back to feeling like YOU again:

  • How long is the recovery process? If I’m still experiencing pain or fatigue after that window, what should I do?  
  • What complications or warning signs warrant a call to you? What about a trip to the emergency room?  
  • What nutrition and activity changes do I need to make during the recovery period? 
  • How soon will I be able to get back to my regular daily activities? Exercise?
  • What additional specialists should I see to promote my recovery? 
  • What can I do to reduce my risk of recurrence? 

Most importantly, don’t be shy about asking questions.  There are no stupid when it comes to your care and your health.  And if your doctor isn’t patient with you and willing to answer any question that is bugging you, then maybe he’s not the right doctor for you.   Here’s to your best health!


Emmy Award-winner Samantha Harris may best be known for her eight seasons as the host of Dancing with the Stars or her many years on Entertainment Tonight. The 11-time fitness cover model and mother of two was blindsided by her breast cancer diagnosis at age 40. In a quest for answers and leaning into her journalism background, she researched all she could and determined that what she put in, on and around her body gravely affected her health. Her bestselling book, Your Healthiest Healthy, arms others with how to take control to become the healthiest version of yourself. The opinions contained in this article are those of Samantha and may not reflect those of Susan G. Komen.

For more about Samantha, follow her on Instagram @SamanthaHarrisTV or visit