What to Do in Oncology Waiting Areas

waiting area

If you are newly diagnosed with breast cancer, you may feel apprehensive about sitting in oncology waiting areas before seeing your physician or getting a treatment. You don’t know what to expect or what will be expected of you.

If you are going to provide support for a newly diagnosed family member or friend by accompanying her to meet with the medical oncologist, or radiation oncologist, the breast cancer surgeon, or to have a treatment, you may have concerns about what to do and not do as a companion. If this is something you have not done before, you may be apprehensive about what to do or say in a treatment environment.

Over the years, I’ve spent many hours in oncology waiting areas and treatment rooms with my own breast cancers and as a companion for friends and family members diagnosed with cancer.

Professionally, as an  American Cancer Society Navigator meeting with recently diagnosed women, I’ve come to know that oncology waiting areas have their own expected patient and patient companion manners that are necessary for the comfort of others.

What Patients Need to Know 

  • Waiting room seats fill up fast. Limit your support to one companion. Don’t take up seat space with your clothing.
  •  Don’t be embarrassed if you cry. You don’t need to justify your tears, everyone in that waiting area understands. Know that people who are waiting in treatment areas are no strangers themselves to fear and tears.
  • An oncology waiting area is not the best place for young children. It will only increase your stress if you are trying to mind them while trying to mentally prepare for meeting with your physician or having a treatment. Nurses and other personnel cannot provide child care while you are speaking with your physician or receiving a treatment.  If possible, have a family member or friend care for your child at home; even if it means you have to forgo having someone accompany you.
  • If you are feeling unwell, or extremely anxious, speak to a nurse and ask to be seated apart from others in the waiting area.
  • If you need to eat, bring foods with little to no odor because food odors can be very hard for those receiving chemotherapy to tolerate.
  • If someone sitting near you is making you uncomfortable by trying to start a conversation about your breast cancer or any other subject, and you do not feel like talking, just say you are not feeling well and need to be quiet.
  • When you are sitting in close quarters in a waiting area, be careful of your conversation content. Some patients may think that what you are speaking about applies in their situations.
  • Remember that waiting areas may include patients at all different stages of their treatment process, not just physically but emotionally. Know that the angry person is most likely angry with her situation and not with her fellow patients.
  • If music calms you, use earphones so you won’t disturb others.
  • If you are drawn into a conversation with other women in the waiting area, you may find yourself identifying with them. Be careful not to compare. No breast cancers are exactly the same. No two women have the same experience with breast cancer. Identifying enables you to relate. When you compare, you find differences that may leave you second-guessing, and that may increase your anxiety about your breast cancer.

    What Companions Need to Know 

    • You may have to give up your seat to a patient coming into the waiting area. This is often a necessity during peak appointment hours.
    • Resist the urge to pick up a magazine; focus on helping the person you came with be more comfortable.
    • Waiting areas may include patients at different stages in their treatment process. You will need to skip using a perfume, strongly scented soap, hairspray and body lotion in consideration for those battling nausea from chemotherapy.
    • Smokers need to refrain from leaving the area to go outside for a smoke. When a smoker returns to the waiting area the strong odor of smoke that lingers on clothes can also make patients feel nauseous.
    • Showing cleavage and wearing halters is really in poor taste; it has been known to upset patients.
    • Don’t stare and don’t turn away from the patient who looks worn and frail. Know that she is very aware of how you are looking at her, and that can affect how she feels about herself and her situation.
    • When your friend is finished, encourage her to join you for a cup of tea or coffee. This will give her the opportunity to unwind from her experience, and talk through any concerns she may have.
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