Go Back to Medical School, Dr. Death

Posted on: April 4th, 2014 by

My last post focused on the “little” lies people told me to encourage me when newly diagnosed with breast cancer. This post is about another lie, a whopper told by a second-opinion oncologist that threw me into a swirling inferno.

The first oncologist I saw was cautiously optimistic that, with the right treatment, I had a decent prognosis. I felt somewhat reassured, but not completely, given the new cancer diagnosis and panic episodes. However, I knew right away that this oncologist was special: he was brilliant, talked to me at my level without being condescending, and he was kind and treated me with the utmost respect.

Although I felt this would be a great doctor-patient relationship, I wanted a second opinion.

Just because.

After what seemed like forever, the second-opinion oncologist entered his office with an air of superiority (he never examined me) and sat down at his desk. In his hand were my file and a stack of statistics printed from various sources. He barely looked at me. I was hoping he’d concur with the first oncologist, but I was in for a shock.

He kept changing his mind about my prognosis. From good to bad to good again, based on all the material he was reading.

I became an ensnared animal, wide-eyed with terror.

He said that if I opted for his treatment (so different from the first oncologist’s recommendation), I might live longer. But then his dark side took over, and he told me that my prognosis was poor. Then he changed his mind and restated that his treatment plan was the only hope of saving my life.

I felt desperate to start his treatment plan immediately, but I was so confused and kept thinking of how much I loved the first oncologist. My first burning question was whether I would live, but I had another question almost equally as urgent:

Would I be able to have a baby after treatment? My first oncologist thought it might be possible.

He paused and callously said, “Don’t you think it’s unfair to have a baby, only to orphan it?”

I felt the wind knocked out of me – literally. I don’t think I said much for the rest of the appointment and nodded dumbly as he opened the door with a final, “Don’t wait too long to make your treatment decision. Your life depends on it.”

I waited to get into the elevator before I started sobbing uncontrollably. I was shaking in terror. When I got home, I called the first oncologist crying. He reassured me and told me to come in as soon as possible. He was my salvation, calming me down enough to make an appointment with him. Luckily he has been my oncologist ever since that fateful day.

And now here’s a letter to the second-opinion oncologist; I’d send him a snail mail letter, but I am clueless as to his name or location. Panic does that.

Dear Dr. Death:

During our visit, you sentenced me to a pretty immediate death. Now, 13 years later, I’m still alive, no thanks to you and your incompetence. My oncologist, Dr. B, took me from despair to hope, the hope you denied me.

My life has had its ups and downs. Survivorship has been very difficult at times, but there’s been joy – joy you (or I) never thought I’d experience.

First of all, I’m a mother! It didn’t happen the way I thought it would, as chemotherapy stole my fertility. But I adopted a beautiful baby from China – and I have no plans to orphan her.

I left a bad marriage and developed wonderful friendships.

I left a horrible career and am now established in another one that gives me way more satisfaction and joy.

I’ve rid myself of toxic relationships and only devote my time to positive, like-minded people.

I’ve fallen in love with art again and have emerged as an artist.

You can’t take these gifts of life away from me. I hope you never have to endure the type of hell you put me through. You need to return to medical school to learn about cancer diagnoses and, well, medicine and stuff – and, oh, how to treat patients.

I defy you, Dr. Death, forever and always. I defied you when I tearfully fired you.

And each day I’m alive and experience joy I defy you.

Have you had a doctor give you an inaccurate prognosis/diagnosis?

Have you had a doctor with poor interpersonal skills/bedside manner?

I would like to hear your stories.

Me and Ari

Starting a landscape painting commissioned by my brother

Starting a landscape painting commissioned by my brother

The final product drying in my garage

The final product drying in my garage

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19 Responses to Go Back to Medical School, Dr. Death

  1. Scorchy Barrington had this to say about that:

    People never cease to amaze me–the good and the bad. And you are good amazing! A mom and an artist, a blogger and who knows what else. You live well, Beth. May you live and love well for many, many years. xoxo xoxo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Awwww, thank you so much Scorchy. Your comment means so much to me. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  2. Penny Danch had this to say about that:

    What a lovely, uplifting story. Thank you for sharing it. I have secondary breast cancer and taking anastrazole which is keeping it quiescent at the moment. So feeling positive and getting on with enjoying life.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Thank you for your kind comment and for sharing your story. I hope you live for many, many years to come and continue to enjoy life. Enjoying life: it’s all we can do, right?

  3. Marie Ennis-O'Connor (@JBBC) had this to say about that:

    I feel so angry reading this Beth. There’s so much I could say, but I will try to contain myself. The callousness and lack of empathy is unforgivable. As is the second doctor’s questioning whether it was “fair” of you to have a baby. This was exactly the same thing that my oncologist said to me, and it was devastating to hear it. They say the best revenge is living well and you have proved the naysayers wrong. Ari is the most adorable and beautiful child and it is a joy to see pictures of you both together.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Marie, thank you for your support. It’s amazing how callous some doctors can be. I’ll never forget his nasty comment to me about my wanting to have a baby, like I needed his permission to dare dream of a post-cancer life.

      I’m sorry you encountered the same type of comment from your oncologist. I wish some doctors would understand that they are treating the person, not just the illness.

      Thank you for your sweet words about Ari. I am very blessed. I agree that the best revenge is living well, and you are also an example of making the best of life.

  4. Pingback: Weekly Round Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  5. eileen@womaninthehat.com had this to say about that:

    So glad you proved Dr. Death wrong and have taken back the good in your life.

  6. karen sutherland had this to say about that:

    dear Beth,

    this post was terrific – loved the letter to Dr (?) Death, refuting every single thing he was so WRONG about; but I hate that you had to be subjected to such cruel and stupid nonsense. but what I loved most was hearing the lilt in your voice as you spoke of all the fabulous aspects of your life now – especially your precious, beautiful daughter, Ari. shine on, dear Beth, shine on!

    much love and light,

    Karen XOXO

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Thanks, Karen! I so appreciate your encouragement. When it comes right down to it, I did prove him wrong by choosing to live well. It is a pretty fabulous life. Thank you for your sweet words about my daughter.

  7. Elaine Schattner had this to say about that:

    Quite a story, Beth. It’s an argument for better medical education, and more careful selection of would-be physicians, among other things. Hope you’ve put it behind you, Elaine

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Elaine, I thought physicians had to take a course in bedside manner, but I’m not sure. Not every person who completes medical school should be a doctor, as I found out the hard way.

      I have, indeed, put this behind me. The previous post where I discussed the small lies people told me seemed incomplete without this piece.

  8. tric kearney had this to say about that:

    I am speechless at what you had to listen to in your vulnerable state. Well done you for firing him, and continuing to defy him.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Yeah, now that’s kicking someone when she’s down, right? However, he didn’t know how resilient and tough I really was.

      Thank you for your comment and support!

  9. SeasonedSistah2 had this to say about that:

    I have several doctors that I would love to send a similar letter to. Regrettably, they are still my treating physicians. In my area, rheumatologists and pulmonologists are rarities in the community where I live. But, I am looking. Thank you for sharing how you rejected negative feedback and committed to making positive changes.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      I’m sorry that these doctors are currently your physicians. That makes things difficult, for sure. I’m glad you are looking for better doctors. Keep looking, and I am hoping you find doctors who are gems.

      Thank you for reading my post and commenting.

  10. Careless had this to say about that:

    This is *so* encouraging. Thank you for the blog, it has pdvrioed me with a great deal of comfort and hope. While my dad is a bit older than you (just turned 60), he was always a strong man. He still is and according to his rock star team at Hopkins, is responding very well to the treatments. He grumbles about it (always hated taking medicine and it seems he’s been BLASTED with it now, LOL) but keeps going. His cognitive function has nearly returned to normal and he has only had three sessions of chemo (in his fourth RIGHT NOW). May you guys continue to have amazing lives and know that you continue to touch many more with your words and the courage to keep fighting this (and telling your stories of it). Thank you so very much.~Katrina (an armed-soldier-daughter and kindred soul who fights with her father against CNS Lymphoma)

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Katrina,

      I’m so glad your dad is responding well to treatments and has a wonderful medical team in place. I don’t blame him for complaining about taking medication (aka chemo). That’s exactly how I felt: having such drugs course through one’s veins is not pleasant to say the least.

      I appreciate your readership and comment. I wish only the best for your dad, you, and your loved ones.

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