Dear Dr. B:
You were dog-tired.
And I was dog-angry – and scared out of my mind.
The last time we saw each other, we discussed the bone scan report from hell. You know, the report that said I likely had metastases to the bone.
You misread the report during the appointment, repeatedly telling me that the key sentence said it was “not likely metastases,” but I was understandably rattled.
The word “not” was missing from that sentence in the report. The sentence said my condition was “likely metastases.”
What a difference…one…word …makes.
I emphatically brought up your reading error, saying you were misreading the report, saying you had inserted the “not” in there accidentally.
The “not” was a ghost in the examining room that day. I corrected your misreading three times before you finally saw your error.
You then dismissed the report, not me, as being inaccurate. The CT scan report did not say bone mets. I didn’t have bone mets, you said. Then you asked me to trust you. Like you’ve asked me so many times before.
But unlike before, I hesitated. I couldn’t bring myself to trust you.
I wasn’t nice to you when I pointed out your reading error. In fact, I was angry as hell. And what was worse, I pointed it out in front of a friend, whom I brought with me for support. I must’ve embarrassed you. That was not my intent. It’s just I felt like a hunted animal.
Even the gentlest animal will bare its teeth when trapped.
And I could see the sadness on your face when I left the appointment unswayed, still believing that metastatic cancer had invaded my bones.
I could see the disappointment on your face that your reading error caused me to distrust you. And hold a grudge against you.
I want to tell you this:
Please understand: I’m not sorry that I corrected your reading error. I’ll advocate for myself forever – and I’m tough; I have to be. It was only right that I pointed out the mistake.
But I’m sorry for my anger at you. I’m sorry for distrusting and hating you.
After all, it was never your fault that cancer socked me good.
It was never your fault that chemo is, well, chemo.
And it was never your fault that I’m forever changed, and not all in a good way.
All you’ve ever done was try to help me.
That fateful day of our appointment, maybe you had a hard day, or hard week, or hard month, for that matter. I can’t imagine how very difficult it is to be in your position. Being an oncologist must be so hard.
That fateful day, you might’ve lost a patient, or two, or three.
I will write you a letter soon, but in the meantime, I want to tell you how grateful I am for your listening and your caring about me in the World of Cancer, a world run amuck.
Thank you for caring immensely about my health and working tirelessly to save my life.
I remember all those wonderful things you did to help me.
Like the time that I cried to you about my chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment. You held my hand and told me I was intelligent.
Or the time you helped me cope during my divorce shortly after my chemotherapy ended, just by providing a friendly ear. You have so many patients calling you every day, and yet you took time out of your day to call me back and talk me off the ledge.
And how about the countless number of times you returned my calls within an hour of when I called you to ask a question or to share my panic.
But the most poignant moment was when I got my essay on my breast cancer experience published in the Voices of Breast Cancer anthology. I gave you a signed copy of the book right before a routine followup appointment. You eagerly said, “I’m going to read this – right now!” And right in front of me, before my exam, you read the entire essay.
You said it was “well-done, really well done,” and then you started to quietly examine me.
And that’s when I saw it. You were fighting back tears and beginning to cry. You never cried during any of my appointments or when you meted out treatments. But you cried when you read and understood my narrative.
And that’s the very thing that makes you special: you have always tried to understand my story and reached out to me in times of dire stress. Not every doctor does this.
Of course, we are at an impasse right now, never figuring out why my bones inexplicably break and heal.
This is disconcerting to us and always will be. There’s a lot we don’t know, but one thing I do now know –
I trust you.
What have your experiences been like at your oncologist’s office?
I’m planning to use part of this letter in a real-world letter to Dr. B. Any advice as to what lines would best go in? Any points that I might have overlooked?
Tags: bone scan, fear of cancer recurrence, oncologist