Hello everyone, I took a little break after a long and emotional weekend and am back. I missed writing but needed to veg on the couch and just watch stupid tv (I actually watched an episode of America’s Next Top Model. I really do have cancer!!!!).
Today’s post is something I have been wanting to write about for a long time, almost since I have been diagnosed, and that is the importance of choosing the right doctor when getting a breast cancer diagnosis. You can even go as far as when you get any kind of diagnosis at all.
Of the many decisions I faced when finding out I had breast cancer was a) do I get a second opinion and b) do I just stick with the doctor who diagnosed me or do I shop around? I think many of us who get a cancer diagnosis wonder if we even have the time to shop around? The longer we wait, the longer the cancer is in our body and we want it out YESTERDAY! That’s the anxiety talking and rightly so but, taking the time to find the right doctor has made all the difference in my care and I’m glad I did it.
Let me say that, first of all, I have pretty good insurance. I have a PPO which means that I can go to any doctor at any time without getting a referral. A luxury, I know. This has helped me immensely in this process and I am so glad that Ken and I have been paying higher premiums all of these years for the ease of choice now. That has made finding the right doctor so much easier. I know that others reading this might not have as easy of a time. Second, I have connections. My aunt Vickie works in medical publishing and is a breast cancer survivor herself. She had a doctor that she loved and called her the moment she found out that I might have cancer (they day before I found out) so they were expecting me. All these things make me really, really lucky.
However, even if I didn’t have any of these things, I would recommend shopping around for a second opinion at the very least and also learning about different doctors and cancer centers and understanding what one hospital can offer you in terms of care over another. In my situation, the choice was a no brainer.
My first doctor, Dr. Tartter of Roosevelt Hospital was a real asshole. The whole time, from testing to diagnosis, he was blunt, quick and unfeeling. He completely lacked empathy to the point of shock. I even felt bad for him. The day before my diagnosis, just before he walked me down to my mammogram and after my sonogram and biopsies he told me that he would have results the next day “just in time to ruin my weekend.” Yes. That’s a word for word quote. Who the fuck says that?
The next day when he told me that I had cancer, he said it as if were no big deal and, duh!!!!!! We all knew it right? No surprise? Well, I guess it wasn’t a surprise to me at that point but I wish we could have pretended a little bit. He gave me absolutely no time to take in the news before he started talking about treatment, chemo, hair loss, genetic testing. EVERYTHING!!!!!!!! His complete lack of empathy, the lack of understanding that my world had suddenly been turned upside down was mind-blowing. I knew we could stay there but as soon as Dr. Tartter left us my aunt, who was there for the diagnosis said, “Let’s get out of here.” We got all of my information including my mammogram, got into my aunt’s car, drove to NYU Cancer Center and never looked back.
I didn’t get to meet my current doctor until a week later but even walking into NYU, I knew I was in better hands. The staff seemed happier. I was treated with dignity. I mostly didn’t want to be spoken to that day and they respected that and talked to my aunt and husband instead. They took care of whatever they could in that moment so that we were as prepared as possible for meeting my current doctor, Dr. Guth.
Dr. Guth is and has been amazing. She is simultaneously nurturing and forthcoming. She doesn’t sugar coat anything but delivers her news in a non-alamist way that is still caring. She understands that this experience is truly frightening but that the faster we act, the better off we will be. She takes as much time as I need to answer all of my questions and even answers emails in a timely manner, as long as she is not in surgery. Even though my time with her is mostly done (I deal mostly with the oncologist and plastic surgeon now) she said I can contact her at any time.
Just to let you know one beautiful thing she did for me (I don’t even know if she realizes this) after my surgery, I was in recovery. I was asleep when she came in to check on me. To wake me up, she gently stroked my cheek. It was so tender and loving. It’s exactly what I needed. Would Dr. Tartter have done that for me? I don’t think so.
When you get cancer, you want to know that you are taken care of, that you are understood, that you are going to be treated with dignity all while knowing that they are doing everything in their power to keep you alive. Life with cancer is hell. You want to make sure your cancer team is the refuge from that hell.
Everyone needs something different from their doctors. I don’t know what personality type would want Dr. Tartter but he’s still practicing medicine so, someone must think he’s great. But my advice is, once you get your diagnosis, take a deep breath. Think about what you need from your team of doctors. Don’t be afraid to ask for it and look for it. Or demand it. It is your right to get the treatment you need and want. Don’t settle for less than what you deserve.