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.
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.
Tags: breast cancer, breast cancer diagnosis, breast cancer prognosis, cancer survivorship, incompetent doctor, poor bedside manner, second opinion