Advocating For Yourself While Navigating the Medical World

SurvivorNet Staff

Be Your Own Advocate

  • Being your own advocate is key to obtaining the best treatment possible while dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Provider bias may be unconscious, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed, panelists at our Close the Gap conference said.
  • To advocate for yourself, first you should know your rights as a patient.
  • Panelists recommend asking many questions, so doctors “earn that copay.”

Being your own advocate is always important when it comes to cancer care, but it’s even more significant if your doctor might be dismissing you because of the color of your skin. Unconsciously, some physicians might assume that certain racial groups have less education, or are less able to afford some treatments, and may not offer them all the information or therapy that they could. By advocating for yourself, you can make sure that your doctor sees you as an individual, and doesn’t fall back on assumptions.

“One of the biggest things that I did from the very beginning was asking the right questions,” says Alex Echols, patient advocate and lymphoma survivor. “It’s our lives on the line.” He credits these questions with making sure that doctors took him seriously and viewing him as a partner in his treatment.

Evelyn Reyes-Beato agrees. She encourages other people in her position to “get knowledge” so they can ask the best questions they can, and to not be intimidated by doctors. Whatever your racial identity, you have a right to make physicians “earn that copay”.

Jenny Saldana, another Latina, was told “you can’t keep coming back here taking up resources for women that really need them” when she was trying to get a diagnosis for her breast cancer. Her solution? “The squeaky wheel gets the oil,” she says. She doesn’t think she’d have survived if she hadn’t advocated for herself.

Erika Stallings, a breast cancer previvor, agrees. “There are studies that Black women are sixteen times less likely to get a referral to a genetic counselor” she says. If you feel you’re not getting the same options as other patients because of your race, speak up.

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