Changing the Approach to the Doctor/Patient Conversation in Breast Cancer

In Breast Cancer, Recent Posts by Barbara Jacoby

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A very lengthy email exchange with a young lady this week has once again reminded me of one of the most difficult issues for any person who has received a breast cancer diagnosis and that is the doctor/patient conversation. Not having information or an understanding on so many levels make the situation even worse. And even when we do make a list of the questions we want to ask, it is never complete and usually includes so many emotions that answers and decision-making is difficult on many levels because of all of the issues with which we have to deal. So what can we do to put this aspect of our experience into some sort of perspective that allows for us to overcome at least some portion of the anxiety and fear after a diagnosis.

“I truly believe that the doctor/patient relationship is the most important aspect in feeling positive throughout treatment and that always produces a better outcome for everyone.”Barbara Jacoby

I have come to understand for myself and for others who have received a cancer diagnosis that the mental toll that it takes on a person is greater than the physical. This is the reason that every single patient should have someone on their medical team to help them to address these issues. Even for those who ultimately are fortunate enough to reach the point of no evidence of disease, there quite often remains in the back of our minds a fear of its return. When the time approaches for doctor’s appointments that will include regular assessments, we may be anxious for days, or even weeks, ahead of time that results will not be good. So I have tried to figure out a way to change this narrative so as to try to remove as much of the emotional aspect of the situation as possible.

I truly believe that the doctor/patient relationship is the most important aspect in feeling positive throughout treatment and that always produces a better outcome for everyone. I know that some people are hesitant about ever questioning a doctor because as a patient, we don’t have their training and expertise so I try to change the thinking in this situation. I suggest that you think of it more like you are paying for a service such as if you were going to have your bathroom renovated and you don’t know anything about construction. So you ask your expert what is involved in the process, how long it will take, what kinds of materials will be used, what do you get as a guarantee, what if there are issues during the process, or after, that change the intended outcome, etc. This changes your whole thinking about this exchange. It is no longer a matter of challenging the contractor’s (doctor’s) knowledge but rather learning what the various aspects and issues will be for you based upon your particular bathroom and its structure (cancer and its makeup).

Your doctors and other team members do the work that they do because they want to make a difference for you. They understand what a cancer diagnosis means to a person and if you ask them, most likely they had a family member or someone close to them that inspired them to work in this particular field. Therefore, you should allow yourself to feel free to talk to your team, ask questions as needed and seek direction and information in any aspect of your treatment. If you are not comfortable with your interactions on any level, you should feel free to seek a second opinion, or third or fourth, as needed. You need to trust those to whom you have given over yourself for treatment in order to achieve the very best outcome. After all, if you were not happy with that contractor who you were hiring to reconstruct your bathroom, do you think that you would just settle for him or would you get another recommendation and discuss the work that you wanted done with him? So, why should it be any less for you in dealing with a cancer diagnosis and your treatment?