The Binder

THE BINDER: your new best friend

It may seem funny, but I have helped many patients and they all say the same thing. The binder is key for them, both organizationally and emotionally.  It helps get them through the often excruciating period between diagnosis and treatment.  So even if you think focusing on a binder seems too old-fashioned or silly, give it a try.


The key here is to organize the information about your case immaculately, so you decrease your stress level.  Instead of feeling the anxiety of your situation, focus your mind on the process:

  • Create your binder.
  • Learn about your case.
  • Build questions for your doctors.
  • Maintain the gorgeous physical organization of all the information, down to tactile hole-punching and stapling. 


How fabulously you are maintaining it all! You know deep inside that you have this flood of medical information conquered! You are doing great!  You know that when your doctor asks you for something, you can give it to him in two seconds and haven’t wasted any of your precious appointment hunting for it.


The peace you feel from this will help you engage your mind to make the best decisions possible.  

Yes, you have critical decisions to make, but you are beautifully supporting yourself in this venture. You can review everything in an instant. You’ve got this! When you go back to your car or train after the appointment, you will feel the lightness that comes from knowing you haven’t added anything unnecessarily to your to-do list.


And it is all in one place where you can hold it, hug it, or put it high on a shelf when you need some distance.

I heartily recommend an old-fashioned binder. I find it much easier during high stress than working digitally. If you decide to take notes electronically, set up an immaculately organized system on your laptop or phone.

Here Are My Binder Organization Specifics:

  1. 1.5″ to 3″ loose-leaf binder
  2. Business card sleeves
  3. Large dividers, preferably the write-on kind. Bonus if they have pockets.
  4. Plastic page protectors for your most important documents.
  5. Legal pads, with firm backs, so you can write when it is on your lap during doctor’s appointments. Bonus if they are already hole-punched. I prefer yellow ones so I can quickly distinguish those notes from other papers.  
  6. A heavy-duty 3-hole punch and a stapler.

Here's How to Organize Your Binder:

Business Card Section (at the front):  Collect business cards from every doctor and nurse you see as part of your care. Put them immediately in the business card sleeves at the front of your binder.  

Summary of Your Case Section:  This is the cheat sheet you will write as you learn the critical aspects of your case. I recommend you type this on your computer and add to it as you need. Print a copy for your binder and put it in a page protector.

Your Medications List Section:  Keep this handy. Each doctor will want it. Medications, amounts, and how many times a day. 

Doctors’ Sections:  Each doctor gets their own section.  Put the doctor’s name on the divider tab. Notes from the latest visit or phone call go on top of that doctor’s section. After your appointment and before you leave the doctor’s office, rip out the legal pad pages (including your q’s), staple/hole punch them, and immediately put those notes into the front of that doctor’s section of your binder.  

Advice from Fellow Patients Section.  Take notes on a legal pad, put the name of the patient and the date of the discussion on the top line, and highlight the tips they give you so you can add them to your Treatment Tips section.   

Treatment Tips Section:  A list of all the tips that patients, doctors, nurses, and other sources give you for making the treatment phase the best it can be. If the tips contain product recommendations, provide yourself time to collect them before your treatment begins.  You want this list and those products easily accessible when you start treatment.  

Research Section:  Articles, medical journals, and your notes on both.

Financial/Bills Section:  This is optional. You can start with this as part of your main binder, but you may want to put these into a separate binder as the information in your binder grows. Take notes on any conversations you have with your insurance company, etc. Get the name of the person you speak with and put the date of the conversation on top.

Family Medical History Section:  Doctors and genetic counselors will ask you for detailed information about your family. Create a list. You will be asked to report the significant diseases your relatives had, at what age they were diagnosed, when and why they died, etc. You may need to contact relatives to help you with this. 

Pathology Report Section (if applicable):  Put your report(s) into page protectors.  

Genetic Testing Section:  If your doctor orders it, put the results here.

Scans/Xrays Reports Section:  Put reports on these here. If you have CDs of these tests, staple them into a page protector and keep them here. Ask for the discs when you have your scans. These will be important for second opinions. 

Labs Section:  I like having this section be the very last one in my binder because it is easy to locate. Always put the most recent labs at the front of this section. If no one gives you paper copies of these because they are all in your medical portal, you don’t have to print these out.  

Cover Page:  If your binder has a place to insert a cover page, perhaps ask a sweet child in your life to draw something which will make you smile. Just be sure to add your name and cell number to it!