Oncology Waiting Room Anxiety and Etiquette

waiting area anxiety in oncology clinic

Feeling comfortable in an oncology waiting room may seem elusive. 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.

Loved ones and caregivers can experience this anxiety as well. 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.

Tips for Waiting as a Patient

Planning ahead can help with your appointment as well as waiting time. It's a good idea to bring a companion who can be an extra set of ears and also help ask questions. That said, bringing a dozen friends along can have the opposite effect, especially when waiting. Waiting rooms in oncology clinics are often crowded, and limiting your support to one friend can help with this congestion.

Waiting Room Etiquette

Continuing with thoughts on crowded waiting rooms, try to be conscious of others in your midst even if you're trying to avoid eye contact. Spreading clothing and bags out on empty seats may result in another person needing to stand. Be polite. It's often helpful to realize that other people in the waiting room are no different than you. They have their own fears and tears and are coping with anxiety as well.

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.

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.

If You Are Ill

If you aren't feeling well, have an infection, or fever, or if you're just feeling extremely anxious, ask the receptionist or nurse to find a place where you can be seated apart from others in the waiting room.

Don't Worry About Your Tears or What You Look Like

Don’t be embarrassed if you cry. You don’t need to justify your tears as everyone in that waiting area probably understands. The same goes for your physical appearance.

Avoid Eating in the Waiting Room (A Water Bottle is Fine)

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

Leave Young Children at Home if Possible

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.

Don't Take The Anger of Other Patients Personally

Even if you are conforming to waiting room etiquette, you may rub another patient the wrong way, sometimes by just looking healthier. 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.

Listen to Music Silently

Music can have a very calming effect if you are anxious, and may be just the thing you need to cope with the waiting room. That said, use earphones so you won’t disturb others.

Don't Compare Yourself to 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 two 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 

When you are accompanying a friend or family member to an appointment, keep in mind that you are a caregiver. This may mean that you have to give up your seat to a patient coming into the waiting area. This is often a necessity during peak appointment hours.

Pay Attention to Your Loved One

Consider the time you are committing to attend an appointment with your loved one as sacred. Resist the urge to pick up a magazine; focus on helping the person you came with be more comfortable.

Avoid Perfumes and Other Scents

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.

Don't Leave to Smoke

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.

Dress Conservatively

Remember that some of the patients in the waiting room may be coping with life and death or end of life decisions. Showing cleavage and wearing halters is really in poor taste; it has been known to upset patients.

Think About Your Body Language

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.

Help Your Friend Unwind When the Appointment is Done

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. You may be ready to get back to your normal life, but your loved one with cancer needs the bit of normalcy you can provide.

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