Ask if a symptom is a sign the disease is progressing, or if it is the side effect of treatment, and if there is anything that can be done to give you more comfort. The answer may be that the symptom you are concerned about has nothing to do with the cancer. That, too, can be useful knowledge. It gives you one less thing to worry and wonder about.
Always ask how any change affects your prognosis, that is, the likelihood you will survive the disease or how long you will survive. Many doctors will not discuss your future unless you indicate that you want to know. They are waiting for you to ask questions. Remember that their answer is a guideline, not a schedule.
If your doctor is reluctant to discuss your prognosis or does not seem to be giving direct answers to your questions, keep asking or, if possible, change doctors. One good question to ask, and demand an answer to, is "What would you do in my situation?"
You also need to look at what effect, if any, the symptom or the change in your body will have on your life-style.
Some patients decide to make no changes in the way they are living. Others decide to take a long-desired trip or spend more time with family or friends. For some, these symptoms prompt the writing of a will and preparation of instructions regarding end-of-life medical care. For others, it is an opportunity for self-evaluation and reconciliation.
The symptoms themselves may force changes in lifestyle and in relationships. For example, increased fatigue cannot be eliminated or ignored. Making time in your daily schedule for rest is a change you may be forced to make.
As you read this booklet, you may say "I never want to be that sick! I'll kill myself first." Don't be too sure. An evolution will occur, not a revolution. You won't wake up tomorrow bedridden. Your body will change over time. As it does, so will your mind. Your perspective, values and fears are not the same as they were five years ago. They wouldn't be the same five years from now, even if you didn't have cancer. Don't make decisions before you have to, before you have all the information.