‘Oncologist’ Turned On a Dime

Posted on: May 15th, 2014 by

I judged him way before I met him. There I lay, on my sofa, swearing up and down that I would never, could never, ever see an oncologist.

I was in limbo. My surgeon told me that day — Almost-Botched Biopsy Day — he was pretty sure I had breast cancer. Pretty sure, but not definitely sure. (Two days later, he confirmed that biopsy results indicated I had cancer.)

But I couldn’t wrap myself around another thing the surgeon said on biopsy day, and that word was “oncologist.” I don’t remember the context in which it was mentioned, as the terror of that day and that word was overwhelming. I don’t even think I had heard of the word until that very appointment.

The Gainer Dictionary defined “oncologist” as “bogeyman or bogeywoman; see ‘czar of the cancer underworld.’”

The lines were drawn, and I hunkered down, determined to keep the oncologist on his/her side of the line and out of my personal space.

I was angry. I was hostile. Of course, that anger was partly a cover-up: for fear, for anguish, for pain.

And my declaration that I would never see an oncologist was somewhat arrogant. I was used to a life where I was the epitome of health. My doctors always admired me for taking such good care of myself. I didn’t smoke. Or drink. Or do drugs. I exercised regularly and ate right.

I would leave doctors’ offices with the confidence of an Olympic champion — someone who expected to succeed and who did. My physical exams were boring. And I was proud of that, believing wholeheartedly if I took care of myself, I wouldn’t fall ill.

And now a doctor had the nerve to tell me that I probably had cancer. How dare he? And, after my diagnosis, he told me I definitely had to see an oncologist. How double-dare he?

At the time, I thought, I would rather die of cancer than see a cancer doctor. Yes, seeing an oncologist was that terrifying. I. Would. Not. Go. My fear took the driver’s seat and hit the accelerator at 1,000 miles of panic per hour. My primary care physician immediately wrote a referral for me to see oncologist Dr. B. So I did the only thing I knew how to do.

I went.

So here I was in the cancer doctor’s examination room, feeling like someone on death row waiting for the executioner.

As I waited for the physician, my arrogance unraveled like surgical tape and I found myself bare, frail, vulnerable, and terrified. Deep down inside, I knew I wanted to live. And I was forced to be honest with myself: I needed help to help me live.

That’s when a human being walked in the room. He smiled, looked straight in my eyes, and shook my hand and said how nice it was to meet me. He also expressed how much he wanted me to live. He was kind.

He had a treatment plan. He explained everything clearly, listened to my concerns, and made it clear we were on the same team. I wasn’t just a patient to him; I was a person. And during that hour appointment my perception of the word “oncologist” turned on a dime.

An oncologist would be my medical champion, and I was grateful.


What has been your experience with an oncologist/oncologists?

What characteristics does an oncologist have to have in order to gain your trust?

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6 Responses to ‘Oncologist’ Turned On a Dime

  1. EAK13 had this to say about that:

    I liked mine the second he walked in the room with a huge smile beaming rushing like a crazy person. He was young he looked like he just graduated high school… But when he sat down opposite me took my hands in his and spoke in such a reassuring tone. It was instant Dr love!! He was honest I didn’t mince with words gave him my laundry list of expectations. I made him reassure me that he will tell me things honestly not sugar coat because for me that is worse than lying to me. He has been my Dr for the past 5 years. What do you look for in an Oncologist I don’t know he’s my first but a good listener and willing to accept the patient wants a say in their own treatment.. to treat them with respect
    I would not change my oncologist we are in for the long haul!!

    Love Alli ….XX

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


      I’m so glad it was like at first sight! Your oncologist sounds wonderful, and I don’t blame you for wanting to keep him. You hit the nail on the head by wanting an oncologist who accepts that the patient has a say in his/her own treatment. That’s what I look for in any doctor myself.

      Thank you for your comment!

  2. Nancy's Point had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    Well, as you might know, I’ve had five oncologists. And no, this does not mean I’m a difficult patient – at least I don’t think so. Ha. And boy do I remember that first time. I sat there thinking how in the world could it be possible that I needed an oncologist in my life. Sometimes I still can’t believe it.

    I’m really glad yours turned out to be such a dandy. He sees you as a person, not just a patient. That’s definitely key. Thanks for the terrific post, Beth. xx

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

      Nancy, Yes, your five oncologists — unbelievable. Boy, I cannot imagine how tough that would be.

      I know you are not a difficult patient. You just had some not-so-great luck with finding Dr. Right. It sounds like, from a post you wrote awhile ago, that the last one might’ve been a keeper.

      Yes, I’m lucky to have gotten a great oncologist from the start. I hope he never retires because then I’ll be in a real pickle!

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

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

    Thank you Marie, of Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, for including my post in your weekly round-up.

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