15 Ways to Be Your Own Healthcare Advocate After a Cancer Diagnosis

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UW Carbone Cancer Center health psychologists recommend 15 ways to be your own healthcare advocateAn advocate speaks in support of you and your needs in a healthcare environment that continually changes and evolves. The patient-provider relationship is now conceptualized as both collaborative and patient centered.


Cancer care is multidisciplinary with you serving as a vital member of the care team. Just as your medical providers have areas of specialization, you have expertise to contribute regarding your personal needs, preferences and experiences. Your active participation in your health care may allay your fears and provide your team with information they otherwise might not have.


Here are some tips and ideas for acting on your own behalf:

  • The most effective way to convey your ideas and concerns is by being respectful and direct.
  • Recognize that your team consists of caring human beings with the shared goal of providing the best treatment for you.
  • Participate in decision making at all phases of treatment.
  • You are not seen as a nuisance for asking questions. Cancer is a complicated disease with complex treatments.
  • Your providers will not be offended if you ask for a second opinion. They can help you make those arrangements.
  • Your care is multidisciplinary and comprehensive. If you have question about nutrition, exercise or complimentary treatments, there are specialists who can provide additional care in these areas.
  • There may be more than one team member available for you to approach.
  • You may need to remind providers of your level of understanding of medical terminology.
  • You can advocate for the information that you want to know and the information that you do not want to know.
  • You may not need to wait for test or scan results. Be proactive in requesting them.
  • Know yourself. Ask for what you need. Ask again.
  • If you are too ill/fatigued/weak/have chemo brain, find a close friend or family member that you find trustworthy, respectful and knowledgeable who can speak for you.
  • Find peers and experts who can provide suggestions and directions for your journey.
  • A cancer diagnosis can affect many areas of your life outside the medical system. Use your advocacy skills in other settings, such as work, home or in your community.
  • The Center for Patient Partnerships is an organization affiliated with UW that provides comprehensive patient advocacy services. 

Lisa McGuffey, PhD, is a senior clinical health psychologist in the UW Carbone Cancer Center’s Health Psychology Program. Her role there includes the delivery of psychological services to oncology patients in all phases of treatment in individual, couples and group settings. Her clinical interests include adjustment to illness, as well as finding meaning, personal growth and mind-body aspects of health and wellness.