Iris Mini: Communication with Your Medical Team

"The duty we owe ourselves is greater than that we owe others." - Louisa May Alcott

Your relationship with your healthcare team matters. Asking questions and raising concerns about your health can improve your quality of life. You are the expert on your body and experience, and the information you share is central to helping your team know how you are coping with your treatment.


Self-advocacy is a person’s ability to communicate, negotiate, or assert their needs, desires, or rights. It is an ongoing process that begins at diagnosis and continues through treatment. Advocacy is especially important in cancer care. Each person is responsible for making decisions that are right for them and communicating this effectively with medical providers.

Assertive Communication Skills

It is important to build and maintain trust with your medical team. At times, getting your needs met may mean speaking up assertively and providing some feedback. Assertiveness is the ability to express thoughts, feelings, and needs in an Honest, Appropriate, Respectful, and Direct way.

It can be HARD, but practice can help.

Here are some tips:

  • Give yourself permission to ask your provider if you need them to speak louder, slower, or more clearly if you’re having difficulty understanding.

  • Speak up when you are confused, dissatisfied, or feel rushed.

  • Share physical and emotional symptoms if they are bothering you even if your provider does not directly ask.

  • Use “I” statements (I feel, I have, I am…) with your medical team and avoid starting sentences with “you” which can feel blaming or attacking.

    • Example: Instead of, “You never give me enough time,” try rephrasing to “I feel worried and disrespected when I don’t have time to ask questions.”

  • Cancer comes with many new terms, and it is okay to ask what something means or check for understanding. Ask to see visuals (scans, a picture) if that helps you learn. Try repeating back information to make sure you understand.