1. Develop a strong bond with your primary care physician. How is your current relationship with your internist? Do you trust and respect her and feel comfortable telling her about your fears? Is he someone who, if you were experiencing a variety of symptoms, would stay engaged until the two of you could wrap a diagnosis around the problem and determine the best treatment plan? When you develop this relationship, you’re forging a bond with someone who will be invested in your wellbeing for the long haul—and who will be dogged about getting you in for the preventative exams and cancer screenings you will need to be sure you’re both monitoring your health with an eagle eye.

2. Create a family health history and distribute it to your physicians. This should be based on the collective memories of your closest relatives. Your physicians need and want this information, as it can often help them get you to a faster diagnosis and treatment. So take the time to be a family medical sleuth: Did any grandparents, aunts, or uncles suffer from serious diseases or unusual medical problems? Are there unsolved health mysteries in your family? At a minimum, plot the medical problems of parents and siblings—the closer the relation, the more significant the information. This worksheet can get you started with some pertinent questions to consider.

3. Have regular physical exams and cancer screenings. Doctors rarely see young people suffering from cancer, so it’s unlikely for them to routinely prescreen someone in their 20s or 30s for fatal illnesses. But this situation is unique—and the earlier you catch cancer the better. Explain your concerns to your physician. Be proactive about getting annual physical exams and blood work to make sure all of your biological processes are in balance. It might require a little work on the phone, convincing your insurance company to approve early screenings, so be prepared to make your case and enlist your doctor to also share the facts about your specific risks and dangers.

4. Request copies of your medical records from all of your past and current doctors. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) guarantees you the right to receive a copy of your records, so don’t feel uncomfortable asking for it. This worksheet can help you get started. As you collect your files, it’s important to review them and be as educated as possible about your health status. For example, the results of any blood work from a physical exam should be in your report—do any numbers fall outside the normal range? Talk to your internist about it. Ask what needs to be carefully monitored.

5. Remember that doctors are not perfect. Just because someone has the initials M.D. after their name it does not make them infallible. Everyone makes mistakes. In fact medical error claims the lives of 400,000 Americans a year, making it the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. No one knows your body better than you do, so trust your gut instincts. If you know something is seriously wrong, and your physician shrugs it off, scribbles out the same prescription that’s been of no help in the past, or doesn’t take your point of view seriously—it’s time to find another doctor. You need a committed physician who will spend some time digging into the possibilities, until the two of you can come to a reasonable diagnosis that can then be confirmed by specialists.