Factors to consider when choosing a cancer treatment center
August 15, 2012 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Please give me recommendations on good Bay Area cancer treatment centers.

My mother has just been diagnosed with a non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The doctors believe it is probably either hairy cell leukemia or splenic marginal zone lymphoma, and are waiting on further results from her bone marrow biopsy to confirm and start treatment.

I'd appreciate recommendations on good Bay Area cancer treatment centers. We are located in San Jose.

We've been at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View thus far, and I want to explore our options to make sure that she gets the best care possible.

These are my thoughts on the care she's received so far:

Our three doctors have been great when we see them, about once a day.
The facilities are clean.

The nurses have really been all over the place in terms of competency and bedside manner.

(My mom was admitted to the hospital a week ago after going to the ER for a high fever, and spent the first six days on a floor for (I gather) general maladies while tests were pending. A third of the nurses and nurse assistants were wonderful. A third seemed competent but chilly to the point of rudeness, leaving my mother feeling anxious and disempowered. And a third were downright incompetent, trying to give her the wrong medicine, not washing their hands until asked, and sometimes speaking English poorly to the point where communication was extremely difficult. We moved to the cancer ward yesterday and the nurse quality seems much higher so far, but we haven't been on this new floor very long and I am still anxious about the nursing/care culture.)

One of the doctors has encouraged us to seek second opinions and explore our options with where we want my mom to receive treatment. Apparently the type of cancer she has is not going to get any worse if we wait a few days before deciding. We'll talk to her primary care physician this afternoon, but I thought I'd draw on Metafilter wisdom in the meantime.


What factors did you consider when deciding where to seek treatment for cancer?

What weight should we give to the nursing quality when making our decision? Are there questions I should ask or signs to look for to get a feel for the nursing quality on this new floor?

We're new at this, so I also welcome any wish-I'd-known advice for making sure my mom is comfortable and well taken care of.

posted by pluot to Health & Fitness (6 answers total)
Advice I give to everyone who's going to have a hospital stay:

Get a paper notebook and attach a pen to it. Take notes whenever a care provider comes into the room - who it was, what time, what they said. In the back of the notebook, keep a list of questions. Lots of times, different care providers give different information and it's really hard to reconcile. A running document makes it much easier.

This will be a huge help to your mom because she won't have to repeat the doctor/nurse conversations to every visitor who shows up. Just skim the notebook. Also, you won't be bugging her with questions that she cannot answer. (Why did the doctor say that?)

Good luck!
posted by 26.2 at 12:14 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

If I or a family member was diagnosed with cancer, I would RUN and not walk, to a comprehensive cancer center. I am biased because I work for one.

The level of expertise that you get when you go to a comprehensive cancer center may be light years ahead of a regular oncology practitioner. If I was in the Bay Area, I would go to UCSF.
posted by jph at 12:34 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

My neighbor recently received successful treatment for leukemia (including a bone marrow transplant) at Stanford Cancer Institute. He and his wife have nothing but the highest praise for the staff there and the treatment they received.

I wish you and your mother the best as you go through this.
posted by trip and a half at 12:40 PM on August 15, 2012

I had a similar scary ER admission followed by a week at death's door, with various specialty doctors trying to diagnose me at a smaller local hospital. Scarily inconsistent levels of competence in staff: some excellent, others horribly ignorant and uncaring. Then the clouds parted and I was referred to UCSF Hematology & Oncoclogy.
Everyone I've dealt with there in the last two years has been a very competent, pleasant human being. They always know about the latest research and are excited about the science. The only negative factor of choosing UCSF might be that they're a big, busy, teaching hospital, so waiting times can be long. But if you aren't in a hurry and want excellent minds working to make you better, go there. Just pack a lunch when you go for your appointment.
posted by Atelerix at 3:05 PM on August 15, 2012

Pluot, I'm sorry you and your mom are going through this. I'd second the recommendations for UCSF and Stanford as the leading hospitals in the area.

In terms of wish-I'd-known advice, you might find some good information at Hope Assistance - she's a compassionate Bay Area patient advocate & health care navigator who draws on her personal experience to help others support loved ones through cancer and other major health issues. There's a lot of info on her site, but it's probably also worth giving her a call and seeing if she can help guide you through some of this initial confusing time.
posted by judith at 4:09 PM on August 15, 2012

Write everything down, as 26.2 says.

I am from the Bay Area, and I would definitely go to Stanford or UCSF if I had cancer.
posted by radioamy at 4:17 PM on August 15, 2012

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