When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, my sister and I were sitting next to her in the doctor's office. All of us were stunned into silence. Then my mind flooded with questions. Will she need surgery, radiation or chemo? Will she suffer? Will she lose her hair? What should we do next? What does this all mean? It was very scary, mostly because of all the unknowns.

Looking back, I would have been very grateful if I had had a list of key questions to ask her health care provider. So I decided to make one in case I'm in that position again. It's more like a list of pieces of information you should have. I hope its helpful for you if your loved ones are ever faced with a cancer diagnosis.

Dr. Edward Greeno and Dr. Naomi Fujioka are oncologists at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. They listed the five key pieces of information you should get from your health care provider in order to make informed decisions about your cancer journey. The first is a no brainer, but the most critical.

  • Don't be afraid to ask questions.

"The most important thing is to ask questions," Greeno says. "And to not be afraid -- when you're overwhelmed and its not making sense, or you just asked a question and you got an answer that flew right over your head -- to ask again so you really understand what's going on."

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  • Make sure you know exactly what kind of cancer you have.
  • Once you know the type of cancer you have, make sure you understand how far advanced it is. Treatment for an early cancer may be very different than treatment for a more advanced cancer.
  • Be sure to understand what the cancer means for you. Have an honest and open discussion with your health care provider about realistic expectations.
  • Be sure to understand what the goals are for treatment.

"Always understand what we're trying to accomplish with the treatment we're proposing," Fujioka says. "Are we trying to control the cancer? Are we trying to control it for a period of time? And be sure to understand the balance between acceptability of side effects versus quality of life."

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For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.