Deciding Where To Get Treated

Making the decision about where to be treated for cancer is very personal. Do you go to a major cancer treatment center or a local community hospital or oncology clinic? Being from Minnesota, I’ve seen both sides of this. My relatives live in some rural parts of Minnesota, far from Minneapolis, so the choice of being treated locally or traveling is a decision that they have to make any time a major illness occurs. I believe it’s a personal choice, and it’s not right or wrong either way.

A personal decision

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I made the decision to be treated at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), where I always went for appointments with my primary care physician. Since I live near Boston, I had been going there for over ten years, and I really didn’t even think about going anywhere else. Of course, I also knew that MGH was always recognized as one of the best hospitals in the world. It was a positive experience for me, as my primary care physician directed me to the specialists I needed to see along the way. Ultimately he recommended my surgeon, Dr. Doug Mathisen, who was the head of thoracic surgery at MGH. How lucky was I, being treated by one of the world’s most recognized surgeons?

Trust is important

But in my mom’s case, she felt a close connection to her primary care doctor at a local hospital. So when she got diagnosed with a pancreatic tumor, she did not want to travel to the city for care, instead preferring to get her care locally at a small hospital. I personally would have chosen to go to the major cancer center, but I respected her decision. She felt strongly that her trust in her doctor was more important than where she would get treated. Ultimately I believe this decision is up to the patient, and if being treated locally makes you comfortable and confident, you should make that decision. Of course it’s incumbent of the local health care team to be knowledgeable about latest treatments, genomic testing, and available clinical trials, and communicate with the patient about the best course of action. This is also why I believe it’s important to talk to your family and friends. Being diagnosed with cancer can be overwhelming, so it’s important to have someone with you when you are going to appointments. It helps to have someone with you to listen to the healthcare team.

At the end of the day though, it really is a personal decision to choose where to be treated. When I decided to become an advocate, I thought about my relatives in Minnesota and how I felt the playing field should be level no matter where you live. I live in Boston, and it’s home to many world class institutions like MGH and Dana Farber Cancer Institute. But if you get cancer in northern Minnesota, you should get the same care, either locally or in Minneapolis. And don’t forget to be your own advocate!

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