FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What can I expect at my first appointment?

The first appointment is an important consultation because it is allows communication and the formation of a working relationship between you and your doctor:

  • You to tell us about yourself, your past medical problems, and the current situation
  • Your doctor can explain the likely diagnosis from his or her perspective, to provide you with information, and to outline and arrange a plan for taking things forward

What should I bring to my first appointment?

  • A list of your medications
  • Medicare details, insurance details, next of kin contact numbers
  • Referral letter if you have it
  • Any scans that you have had performed
  • A list of questions that you would like to have answered.

What happens at the first appointment?

Taking a history of your symptoms and examining you, together with scan, any blood test and biopsy results leads to the final step, talking to you about the diagnosis and staging of the condition.

How is a diagnosis made?

Diagnosis refers to the exact description of a condition. We, as doctors and you, as the patient want to have a crystal clear idea of the condition that we are dealing with - that often requires the combination of history and examination, blood tests, scans and often biopsies.

Some of these investigations may have been done prior to your attendance at Ballarat Cancer Care, others may be arranged at your initial or subsequent visits. Occasionally achieving a diagnosis can take some time. However, investing time at the start to establish a definitive diagnosis is crucial. We understand that this time can be an anxious one, so please talk to us about how you are feeling.

What is staging?

Staging refers to the extent of a medical condition. A condition such as cancer often spreads locally before involving glands (lymph nodes) or other organs. The treatment offered depends on the staging of the condition - localised stages of disease may be treated with local therapies such as surgery or radiotherapy and less localised stages may be treated with systemic treatments, which go through the whole body.
After the doctor has thought through your case, he or she will discuss the conclusion they have reached, areas of uncertainty and what needs to be done to remove those areas of uncertainty by doing more tests. Different options will probably be briefly discussed and further tests arranged. These tests will be arranged by the reception team and a follow up appointment made for an appropriate time. All questions that can be answered at the initial consultation will be answered, but some may need to have further tests performed first.

What happens when my doctor is away?

The doctors of Ballarat Cancer Care are extremely fortunate to have the support of Medical Oncologists from Ballarat Base Hospital including Dr Kate Hamilton, Dr Lee Na Tao and Dr Stephen Brown who cover weekends when Dr Carden or Dr Francis are not available.

When one of the Ballarat Cancer Care doctors is on holiday, one of our other doctors will cover your care or a locum (a trusted and experienced colleague) will be appointed.

What will my out of pocket costs be?

Any costs associated with consultations are the responsibility of the patient. You will be advised of the Dr’s fees when making your appointment. A portion of the cost is claimable from Medicare. Please feel free to discuss with your doctor any concerns that you may have about the financial implications of your care.

Inpatient costs in a private hospital are covered by medical insurance funds and there will be no out of pocket cost for patients covered by health insurance.

What about the costs of chemotherapy?

Most chemotherapy is reimbursed within the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and therefore does not involve any out-of-pocket cost. However, in some situations there are newer drugs which are not available on the PBS and therefore involve out-of-pocket costs. If your doctor feels such a drug may benefit you, this option will be discussed with you.

Is it possible to access counselling about my diagnosis?

Family obviously provide the bulk of emotional support and are encouraged to attend as many appointments as possible with you. We particularly encourage family to attend the first one or two appointments and come along after a restaging scan.

For patients receiving chemotherapy, support is offered by the chemotherapy nurses of the Day Oncology Ward. Because patients receiving chemotherapy get to know these special people very well, they can provide enormous support.

Breast care nurses and other disease specific groups can link patients into groups of patients with similar conditions.

Psychology services are available for all patients if required. Please discuss with your doctor if you think you would benefit from such a referral.

What is the role of palliative care in my management?

Palliative care is defined by the World Health Organisation as “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.”

For anyone with a serious condition who is experiencing significant symptoms, concern about what the future may bring is to be expected. Where outpatient nursing support would be helpful, we encourage referral to the local palliative care services.

What is the role of the Practice Nurse?

Our Nurses are experienced oncology nurses whose role is to support your Doctor in the delivery of your care. This may include identifying support or resources that will give you peace of mind, reassurance about ways of managing and a safe, confidant who understands caring for people with cancer. Angela and Chrystal also work in the day oncology ward at St John of God Hospital, providing a valuable link between outpatient care at BCC and treatment centres.

If you would like to speak with our Practice Nurse, you can ask one of our admin team to arrange a visit or phone consultation. There is no cost to patients for this service, it is integrated into the care provided by the team of specialists at BCC, a service we hope provides another avenue of support to our patients and carers.