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.
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?
Tags: biopsy, breast cancer, cancer, fear of oncologist, oncologist, surgeon