I just spoke with the friend of a woman who found out this morning that she has breast cancer. She doesn’t yet know what stage it is, whether or not it is estrogen receptive or any other vital details. But even if she’d been told, she probably wouldn’t remember anything except those horrible three words: YOU HAVE CANCER.
Thankfully, her friend is a two-time breast cancer survivor, like myself. Let’s call the friend Marcy. Wisely, Marcy knows that things change rapidly in the medical arena and that she shouldn’t rely on her experience as the gold standard to judge medical care. That’s why she called the Community Breast Health Navigator and Cancer Support Program to get in touch with someone to help her find the most current information.
Marcy will be going to the surgeon with her friend tomorrow morning. (That seems to be the way it is. Day one, you learn you have cancer; usually over the phone. Day two, you meet with the surgeon and come up with a plan. The plan should really be made in community with other specialists, namely, the oncologist, but sadly, that doesn’t always happen.)
By the way, don’t ever let your friend go to the doctor by herself. It’s crucial to have a friend or family member go along with her to listen, write down the information shared and even help ask questions. It’s amazing how much information you can hear and not comprehend, or think you understand but then by the time you get home it’s all jumbled and doesn’t make any sense or you’ve forgotten most of it. Marcy will go with her friend and take notes as well as ask for clarification or a simplified explanation if her friend’s eyes glaze over.
As I spoke with Marcy today, I reminded her of two main points to stress to her friend. They are wise words for any one facing cancer, or any medical need for that matter.
Main Point #1 – Never be in a hurry. Other than immediate life and death situations, even the person with a very aggressive tumor has a minimum of a few days or even weeks to make their decision. If a surgeon tells you that you need to get the tumor out immediately (as in that very day or the next), tell him thank you and leave and never go back. It is vital that you know you have options and that cutting is not always the right choice. There are so many variables involved in cancer treatment, that despite your understandable knee-jerk reaction to “get this cancer out of me,” remind yourself that it’s better to take a deep breath and find out your options. The more information you have, the better decisions you can make. This leads us to the next point!
Main Point #2 – Always get a second opinion. You wouldn’t buy a house on the spot without looking at other houses. (Or making sure to have it inspected.) You wouldn’t send your child to a daycare without checking out several and seeing how they function. This is your life and health we’re talking about! Just because the person has the abbreviation ‘Dr.’ in front of their name doesn’t mean they know everything. Not every doctor is up to date on the newest treatments and procedures. Not every doctor has integrity or wisdom or knowledge or skill. Find one by referral or use Google to your advantage. Read up on several doctors and read the ratings by other patients.
Make that appointment for a second opinion and without telling doctor number two what doctor number one recommends, see what doctor number 2 has to say. See if what he recommends is the same as doc number one. If not, get a third opinion. Yep, that’s right! Don’t worry about offending the doctor. It’s your life you’re talking about! Getting a second or third opinion is always wise, and if he’s a great doctor, he’ll be the one telling you to get a second opinion! Great docs are confident enough in their grasp of your situation to urge you to get it confirmed. If he gets upset that you want to consult another doctor, then that should tell you what you need to know! Leave him and find someone else!
Well, I’m anticipating a call from Marcy in a day or two. I’m hoping for the best possible news for her friend.
I leave you with this motto which sums it up:
The right information + the right doctors = the best possible outcome.