How To Be Your Own Best Advocate
Sometimes you have to step up and ask for what you need regardless of what others think or say in a direct, respectful manner. That’s what self-advocacy is all about.
I have no problem doing that, even when (and especially when!) the topic is something that is usually whispered about: HPV and anal cancer. You see, I don’t care what people think. I had anal cancer and it was because of HPV. I want and need to talk openly about anal cancer because I don’t want others to go through what I did. I believe everyone has the right to have the best access to the information about the risks, how to prevent the infection and associated cancers, and the treatments available. I believe this approach is critical if you want to be your own best advocate.
My background and training in public relations, marketing strategy, business planning, and public speaking serve me well—being my own best advocate comes naturally. However, I realize it can be challenging to advocate for your own healthcare. After all, the healthcare labyrinth can be confusing and frustrating to navigate. It can be difficult to garner your doctor’s attention. That’s why I’d like to offer some tips on how to advocate for yourself.
Believe in yourself. You deserve quality healthcare and answers to all of your questions. We seek out medical expertise, but doctors are not always 100% correct at determining what may be wrong. You are the one who lives in your body, so don't give up. Seek a 2nd and 3rd opinion, if necessary.
Identify what you want. Before you can ask for better healthcare, you need to clarify exactly what you want and need. Do you have questions about how HPV is transmitted? Do you want information about the HPV vaccine? Do you need to know the steps to protect your children from HPV?
Know your rights. Everyone is entitled to equality under the law. If you are unsure about your healthcare rights, talk to your doctor, nurse, or another trusted individual who can help you navigate the system.
Educate yourself. Research the facts about HPV and the cancers that it can cause. The internet can be an excellent source of information when you choose reputable websites with references. Read information on several sites, not just one or two. Contact people who have expertise in HPV. Check out information from medical organizations, nonprofits, and foundations on the topic of HPV.
Create a support team. Talk with friends, family, healthcare professionals, and others who are willing to help you on your journey of discovery about HPV and related cancers. You may also reach out to support groups, which can be a rich source of moral support as well as information.
Plan your strategy. As you gather information and supporters, plan how to use what you have collected. Are you taking a list of questions to your doctor on your next visit? Will you bring along one of your support team? Are you talking about your questions and concerns with your supporters to help you take action? Have you identified which persons and organizations can help you implement your action plan? Have you enlisted one or more supporters to help you with this task?
Speak clearly and with authority. When you have the opportunity to say what’s on your mind, keep it brief and succinct. State what you want as clearly and calmly as possible. You may want to practice what you want to say with a supporter—do role playing so you can feel more comfortable. Take notes or use bullet points to help you keep your thoughts straight.
Be confident and persistent. This is the motto I live by: Don’t give up! Stay on your game. Dedicate yourself to what you want and need and follow through on what you say you are going to do. If you feel yourself losing confidence, gather your supporters and talk it out.